Community health centers expand services, promote wellness

Even as the federal government has set aside $101 million to build new community health centers across the country, these clinics' roles and reputations appear to be evolving beyond their traditional definition.

One in 15 Americans relies on community health centers' services, FierceHealthcare has reported. In Tennessee, about 84 percent of community health center patients are at or below the poverty level, but officials from two such clinics that qualify as patient-centered medical homes say they treat patients from all walks of life, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"Over the years, community health centers have been known as the 'poor people's clinic,' and I don't think that's the case anymore," Geogy Thomas, M.D., the medical director of Indian Mountain Clinic in Jellico, Tennessee, told the newspaper. His clinic builds relationships with the community by offering home visits and telemedicine services, and treating multiple generations of families, he said.

Similarly, Cherokee Health Systems' Sevier County medical office in Seymour, Tennessee, combines primary care and mental health services to increase access to behavioral health resources.

California's community health centers also have increasingly embraced a wellness-focused approach to patient care, the Public News Services reports. One nonprofit clinic organization offers a food bank, financial aid, legal aid and other social programs in addition to healthcare services at its locations, and another such organization includes a community garden, an exercise circuit, hiking trails and a playground at its clinics.

Meanwhile in Missouri, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt visited a St. Louis community health center late last week to indicate his support for such clinics despite his overall opposition to the Affordable Care Act, according to St. Louis Public Radio. The operator of Affina Healthcare, the clinic he visited, has recently increased its workforce, added more services and remodeled two of its locations.

"I think [health centers] are a great example of how you meet the needs of a community that otherwise would not have their needs met nearly as effectively," said Blunt, who chairs the Senate committee tasked with deciding how to dole out the two-year mandatory funding set aside by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.

To learn more:
- read the Knoxville News Sentinel article
- here's the Public News Services report
- read the St. Louis Public Radio report

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