Comment: Protect funding for Community Health Centers

CHC Snohomish, with several clinics in Snohomish County, provides a range of primary care services.

By Joe Vessey / For The Herald

National Health Center Week, Aug. 7-13, will be celebrated in person and virtually this year. Elected officials will join communities across the country to elevate the work that community health centers do, while continuing to fight on the front lines of covid-19 to keep our communities healthy and safe. Their visits and messages will demonstrate that it is possible to move beyond the partisan divide over health care. This support affirms that community health centers are vital to our communities.

Health centers provide preventive and primary care services to nearly 29 million people and have continued to do so while facing this global pandemic. Community health centers provide care to people who disproportionately suffer from chronic disease and lack access to affordable, quality care. While our approach is community-based and local, collectively we are the backbone of the nation’s primary care system. Community health centers lower health care costs by $24 billion a year, reduce rates of chronic diseases and stimulate local economies.

Community Health Center of Snohomish County is a nonprofit, federally qualified health center. We provide medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and additional ancillary services to nearly 70,000 individuals, providing 243,049 patient visits in 2021.

For over 35 years, CHC has provided services to Snohomish County residents who face barriers to health care with the mission to provide our diverse community with access to high quality, affordable primary health care. CHC operates seven medical primary care clinics, two medical walk-in clinics, five dental clinics, and five pharmacies. Our clinics are conveniently located in Arlington, Edmonds, North Everett, Central Everett, South Everett and Lynnwood.

Community health centers are not just healers, we are innovators who look beyond medical charts to address factors that may cause poor health; such as poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition and unemployment. We are a critical piece of the health care system, collaborating with hospitals and local and state governments. We also partner with social, health and business organizations to improve health outcomes for people who are medically vulnerable. During the pandemic, we shifted to serving our communities through telehealth and offering drive-through covid-19 testing, while still ensuring our patients had access to basic necessities such as food and housing resources.

While covid-19 continues to exacerbate social and medical inequities across the country, community health centers have stretched themselves to reconfigure services for those in need. As unemployment rates rise and more people lose their employer-sponsored health insurance, community health centers must remain open to provide care for all, regardless of insurance status.

The mission of community health centers remains crucial today because access to basic care remains a challenge in parts of the United States. Many people live in remote and underserved communities where a shortage of providers exists and, in many cases, the nearest doctor or hospital can be as far as a 50-mile drive to another county.

Congress must act immediately for community health centers to continue to serve as health care homes. Long-term and stable funding for community health centers will ensure we can keep our doors open and close the growing access gap for medically vulnerable communities. I am grateful that Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Rick Larsen and Pramila Jayapal have shown leadership in supporting/sponsoring legislation that will protect health centers from losing a major part of our funding.

Show your support during National Health Center Week by supporting a health center in your community. We will be there when you need us.

Joe Vessey is chief executive officer for the Community Health Center of Snohomish County.

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