Ensuring community health

In the non-governmental sphere, community health is elemental, a matter of life or death.

Community health centers, along with resources to benefit those living with mental illness, bring that elemental challenge into focus. In Edmonds on Monday, the doors swung open for a new, $10.5 million facility operated by the nonprofit Community Health Center of Snohomish County. As The Herald’s Sharon Salyer reports, the center is forecast to treat 5,600 medical patients and 2,300 dental patients, both adults and children, in its first year. It’s a range of services that mortars the gaps in an evolving system, as Obamacare takes hold.

“I don’t believe we have enough primary care providers in the community, and in particular to serve the newly insured and those who remained uninsured,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, the director of the Snohomish Health District.

As Salyer reports, the 25,000-square-foot building on Highway 99 has 22 medical exam rooms, 10 dental treatment areas and an on-site pharmacy, replacing the center’s temporary digs next to Swedish/Edmonds hospital.

During implementation of Obamacare, the feds play an instrumental role, just as community health centers knit together the broken seam in service delivery. “These centers lead the way in making Washington’s enrollment in new affordable coverage one of the strongest in the nation, devoting resources and staff to helping people get covered,” Kim Johnston, chief of staff to Rep. Rick Larsen, wrote in an email.

Larsen has pushed for $5.1 billion for community health centers as well as continuing mandatory health center funding in the budget.

The opening of the Edmonds clinic comes on the heels of news that Washington experienced the fourth-largest reduction in its rate of uninsured residents since the insurance requirement took effect earlier this year — dropping from 16.8 to 10.7 percent.

All promising news, with one caveat: How do we mark progress when the largest de facto mental health facility in Snohomish County is the jail? It’s a perpetual problem with no quick fixes. But courts are a cudgel.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled that it’s unlawful for hospitals to stick patients in the perdition of an emergency room for weeks or months because they don’t have treatment space (a routine known as “psychiatric boarding.”) Thursday’s ruling could be the mental-health equivalent of the McCleary decision, requiring an infusion of state funding.

Good. It’s as compelling a need as it is a responsibility.

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