By Lia Spiliotes: CHCs offer prescription for better health

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GREAT BARRINGTON — This past year, with strong bipartisan support, Congress invested nearly $10 billion in the nation's 1,400 community health centers, recognizing that a strong community-based system of care — where people have certain access to doctors and preventive care — will save lives and reduce health care costs. National Health Center Week 2018, from Aug. 12-18, provides an opportunity to learn more about community health center (CHCs) and witness, firsthand, why we are at center stage in a changing health care landscape.

Health centers like Community Health Programs — we serve more than 30,000 residents of the Berkshire region — are part of a nationwide network that cares for more than 27 million Americans. Our longstanding mission to provide affordable options for primary care is well established, but what's less well-known is that community health centers are innovators and problem-solvers in treating chronic disease. We look beyond medical charts not just to prevent illness but to address the factors behind poor health: poverty, homelessness and housing insecurity, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition, transportation problems and unemployment.

Health centers are on the front lines dealing with complex problems such as chronic disease and the growing problem of obesity in rural neighborhoods. These are health conditions that, if left unchecked, cause their victims to end up in hospital emergency rooms for costly treatment. CHCs save the U.S. health care system $24 billion a year by managing health conditions and reducing unnecessary visits to the hospital

Our model of care works because we treat the whole patient with integrated services located under one roof, or within our health network. With this streamlined care our patients — who span the socio-economic spectrum but also include low-income families, veterans and the elderly — need not navigate a confusing maze of services to see a dentist or to fill a prescription. Yet, all too often this happens in our fragmented system of care, even for patients who have both insurance and a regular health care provider. At CHP, and at health centers nationwide, our goal is to provide everyone with easy access to care no matter who they are, where they come from, or whether or not they have an insurance card.

Community Health Programs dates back to the early 1970s when a visionary physician-activist in South Berkshire and some dedicated pediatric nurses began seeking out under-served children in the region's isolated hill towns. Today, CHP has practice locations throughout the Berkshires, for patients of all ages. Primary care, dental care, women's health and obstetrics, vision care, physical therapy, nutrition counseling and an array of services for families and children define CHP's work.

Our partnerships with Berkshire Health Systems, Fairview Hospital and an array of local organizations and businesses, serve to strengthen our impact. And following a spring 2018 review by our key federal funding agency, CHP received a score of 100 for its compliance with complex regulations governing our work. With $3.8 of our $22 million budget comprised of HRSA grants, this achievement is no small matter as it enables us to offer ongoing, sustainable health care for all who come through our doors.

During NHCW, we invite you to learn more about health centers, by exploring our website (chpberkshires.org) or by arranging an informational visit to one of CHP's practice locations to meet and talk with with our clinicians and staff.

The theme of this year's National Health Center Week is "Celebrating Health Centers: Home of America's Health Care Heroes." But we who work at health centers do not consider ourselves heroes. Rather, we are people of the community who believe that affordable health care should within reach for everyone who needs it. We believe health centers like ours are an excellent prescription for our nation's health.

Lia Spiliotes is the chief executive officer of Community Health Programs.


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