Community health centers save us money
A leaner federal budget might be the order of the day in the Nation's Capitol, but in our corner of America the solution is not so simple.
Cutting programs that provide services to vulnerable populations - and specifically the federal Community Health Centers program - might actually increase the costs borne by all of us taxpayers.
At the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, we see firsthand what happens when people are denied basic health care because they don't have insurance or they only carry catastrophic insurance that does not cover primary care. Because they do not have access to preventive medicine, they can become more sick, until they are forced to turn to local hospital emergency rooms. When this occurs, who pays their bill? We all do.
When we shut the doors to cost-effective primary care, we in turn foster crowded hospital emergency rooms and higher health care costs, even compromised public health because some health conditions, like influenza or tuberculosis can easily spread.
Health centers like ours offer a better approach - both for the 23 million patients currently served nationally and the almost 60 million Americans who still lack access to routine care. Health centers are strong partnerships of people, governments and communities working together to meet health needs. All together, we save the health care system $24 billion each year in health care expenditures, due in large part to our ability to keep patients who would otherwise be unable to find or afford care out of costlier health care settings.
Health centers are locally-controlled, nonprofit entities directed by patient majority boards, which ensures each health center is accountable and responsive to the community it serves. It's no wonder the health centers program was rated as one of the most effective programs by then-President George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget.
Health centers were on track to double their patient capacity to 40 million patients over the next five years. This expansion would have brought comprehensive health center services, such as immunizations, prenatal care, dentistry and mental health services to communities that lack them today. But in the current tight fiscal climate, health centers now face significantly reduced federal support, leaving little for expansion efforts and little hope to the 800 communities that have submitted applications for a health center. The Sonoma Valley Community Health Center is facing a $120,000 impact this year and we are bracing for the cuts that will be generated by the national debt reductions.
We all bear a responsibility to address the growing national debt, but at times like these we should be even more thoughtful about investing our limited resources. During National Health Center Week - Aug. 7 to 13 - there is no better time to reflect on the growing numbers of people who need affordable health care and could benefit from having a Community Health Center in their neighborhood. To learn more about Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, go to svchc.org.
• • •
Patricia Talbot is CEO of Sonoma Valley Community Health Center.