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The Impact of Local Community Health Centers

Disclaimer: Ad paid for by Californians to Protect Patients and Contain Health Care Costs, a Coalition of Physicians, Dentists and Health Care Insurers and Providers. Committee Major Funding from The Doctors Company, California Medical Association, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and the Hospitals.

Did you know that more than 1 in 5 Californians receive medical care from a local community health center? Community Health Centers or Clinics (CHCs) are an essential part of the healthcare system in California because they directly serve the local community by providing access to medical care regardless of income level or insurance status. CHCs are not-for-profit health centers that provide both primary and preventative care meeting the needs of the most underserved communities. 

During the financial crisis of 2008, known as the housing bubble, I suddenly became one of the millions of Americans that was jobless.  Being employed in the mortgage banking/financial industry for nearly 8 years and as the sole provider, for the very first time in my life my family and I were in a position where we no longer had medical coverage. As you can imagine knowing you don’t have coverage especially if an emergency happens is a scary place to be, but thankfully for us we were able to obtain coverage offered by the state once the coverage I had from my previous employer had run out.  

For 2 years, I received care from a local community health center that provided Women’s Health Services. I know that it is the opinion of most that these types of centers only provide assistance for unplanned pregnancies and that the care doesn’t compare to the plans we pay for, but I personally was able to get the essential care I needed at that time of my life. 

My community clinic was able to fill the gap by giving me the same care I would at a paid provider. I was able to be seen for many things including annual preventative check-ups such as STD testing, pelvic/breast exams, cancer screening, to obtain birth control, as well as being diagnosed for common infections, and medication to treat them at absolutely no cost. The staff from the front desk to the back office were exceptional at providing patient education for all of my care needs. I always felt safe, heard, and cared for when I visited their office.  I also was discreetly given contraception products provided to all patients to avoid unprotected sex before I left the facility.  This small gesture really stood out to me especially when thinking about those that don’t have the financial ability or are too embarrassed to purchase these types of products themselves.  Being seen at this center and being a patient without coverage, I learned first-hand the importance that these centers provide.  As a result, my experience changed my view of the CHC system overall.

Local Community Health Centers provide the same services that paid medical coverage does, serving 7.4 million patients a year including approximately 364,000 that are displaced or experiencing homelessness.  All patients receive care for free or pay a fee based on a sliding fee scale. Here are some of the general services that local community health centers provide:

  • Primary care - regular check-ups, continuous treatment for chronic      conditions, access to on-call medical professionals in an emergency
  • Preventative care - pre/post-natal care, family planning services, ,and a variety of health screenings
  • Diagnostic testing – lab, radiology services
  • Equal access to prescriptions for all -  at no-cost or at a nominal fee
  • Other various services – case management, interpreter/translation services, health education, mental health, dental care and much more

Although these centers provide so much, it is unfortunate to see that as costs rise that many of these facilities are finding it hard to continue to keep running.  Budget limitations are the cause of a domino effect requiring many CHCs to consider cuts to staff, a reduction of services offered, limiting hours of operation and the worst of all closures leaving those without the essential care they need. 

 Although these centers provide so much, it is unfortunate to see that as costs rise that many of these facilities are finding it hard to continue to keep running.  Budget limitations are the cause of a domino effect requiring many CHCs to consider cuts to staff, a reduction of services offered, limiting hours of operation and the worst of all closures leaving those without the essential care they need. 

To help support protection of California’s Community Health Centers visit ProtectAccessCA to learn more about how you can help.