A Community Health Center – or CHC – is a not-for-profit, consumer-directed health care organization that provides access to high quality, affordable, and comprehensive primary and preventive medical, dental, and mental healthcare. Community Health Centers have a unique mission of ensuring access for underserved, underinsured and uninsured people. Since 1965, Community Health Centers have delivered comprehensive health and social support services to more than 22 million Americans, including many people who otherwise would not have access to quality care. Today in Montana, 17 Community Health Centers across the state serve approximately 100,000 Montanans.
In addition to Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers and Health Care for the Homeless programs help meet the health care needs of Montanans. All of these community-based providers are sometimes referred to as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) because they must meet rigorous federal standards related to quality of care and services, as well as cost.
Can anyone seek healthcare services from a Community Health Center?
Yes, anyone can become a patient of a Community Health Center, regardless of his or her ability to pay. Insured or uninsured, low-income or high-income – all can receive primary and preventive healthcare from a Community Health Center.
How are Community Health Centers funded?
Community Health Centers are funded through a combination of federal and local grants and payments from patients and insurance companies. Health Centers must compete once every three years for federal grant funding. Health Centers use these federal grant dollars to assist patients who need help paying for a portion of their healthcare costs.
What are the benefits of going to a Community Health Center for care?
Patients of Community Health Centers experience a combination of quality care, affordability, and accessibility that is unique in our country’s health care system. From a sliding scale payment system to the ability to get in to see a doctor promptly, Health Centers ensure that all members of their community have meaningful access to primary care. In addition to primary care services, Health Centers provide “wraparound” services, such as transportation, translation, care coordination and more, to further enhance patients’ access to care.
Each Health Center is staffed by licensed and board certified physicians, dentists, nurses and nurse practitioners, dental hygienists, mental health specialists, physician assistants, and other professional healthcare staff. Community Health Centers are held accountable to numerous and rigorous state and national standards of clinical and financial excellence. All 17 of Montana’s Community Health Centers use sophisticated health information technology throughout the routine care of their patients and more than half are nationally certified as Patient Centered Medical Homes
Why are Community Health Centers important to all communities?
Poverty, homelessness, poor living conditions, geographical isolation, lack of doctors and lack of health insurance pose insurmountable access problems for many people at higher risk for serious and costly health conditions, including asthma, tuberculosis, diabetes and high-risk pregnancies. Health centers address these access problems through the delivery of comprehensive primary and preventive services – the type of services not typically offered by traditional private sector providers to at-risk people, including most managed care systems. A 2009 George Washington University report showed that the average patient receiving care at a health center had total annual medical expenditures $1,093 lower than an average patient who did not use health centers.
Each health center takes a tailored approach to meet the unique needs of the people in its surrounding community. That local approach to health care, combined with an emphasis on comprehensive preventative care, generates $24 billion in annual savings to the health care system – for the American taxpayer, local, state and federal governments and public and private payers alike.