2020 National Health Center Week
This week communities across the nation celebrate National Health Center Week (Aug. 9-15) to raise awareness about our contribution to the health of our most vulnerable communities. For over 50 years Community Health Centers have been the backbone of healthcare for people who are low-income, uninsured, and underserved in the United States. We are dedicated to providing high-quality comprehensive care to those who have been forgotten or ignored.
At WellSpace Health we serve more than 100,000 people each year at 31 centers, providing them with integrated medical, dental, behavioral health, and supportive services uniquely tailored to their situations. Of those we serve, 92 percent live in or on the edge of poverty. In 2019 11,114 of our patients were uninsured, 4,036 were experiencing homelessness, and 37,174 were children. In fact, one in ten babies born in Sacramento County are our patients too.
Prior to COVID-19, almost 20% of all Californians were served in Community Health Centers and that number is only increasing. Community Health Centers in California employ 85,195 people and have a $12.1 billion economic impact.
Community Health Centers are not just leaders in healthcare. We are economic drivers in communities, many of which, like the people we serve, have been forgotten or ignored. Go anywhere in the state and visit neighborhoods struggling the most, you will find a Community Health Center. Walk inside and you will find many employees from the neighborhood. They speak the language and understand the culture. They are giving back to a Health Center that played a role in their life.
When COVID-19 struck, we took on a new role – pandemic response. We are not first responders like hospitals but we realized early on that the people we serve would be the hardest hit. Our concerns are now confirmed – communities of colour have disproportionate infection rates and worse health outcomes and the communities we serve are being decimated by chronic healthcare conditions that are quite manageable. People are afraid to get their children vaccinated. They are afraid to check-in on their diabetes and heart disease. They are afraid to visit the Emergency Department for serious health complications like heart attacks and strokes.
Our COVID response has been simple; we stepped into the breach. We modified our entire care delivery system to meet people where they are with telehealth and street care. We reached out to people who we knew were vulnerable but may not ask us for help. We made our Health Centers safer through well-designed protocols. Our staff remained in hospitals to make sure patients had the help they needed to transition back into the community. Medical respite stayed open. Alcohol and drug treatment stayed open. Pediatric dental care stayed open. COVID-19 testing and care – open seven days a week.
It wasn’t easy. I am humbled to have remarkable colleagues who rose to the occasion in one of our nation’s darkest hours. You didn’t give up on the people we serve or one another. You lived our mission with dedication and perseverance. You met our patients and clients with compassion and care.
We don’t have “clinics,” we have Health Centers. We are community health. We are at the center of health delivery. We are a Community Health Center. This week we celebrate this.