National Health Center Week
For more than 50 years Community Health Centers-also known as CHCs or federally qualified health centers (FQHCs)-have served as a crucial component of our nation’s health care safety net, providing care and other services to some 25 million people across the country. August 13th -19th commemorates all that these institutions have done to ensure the health of whole communities.
Learn More About Community Health Centers
Community Health Centers (CHCs) began as the result of health care providers partnering with residents in medically underserved communities (those communities that don’t have an adequate number of health care providers for the population.) Today these non-profit organizations are in nearly 10,000 communities across the country. They operate as a partnership between the federal government and communities. Since they are partially funded through grants from the federal government, CHCs must also provide services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay and charge on a sliding fee scale. What makes CHCs even more unique, is that they’re required to be governed by a board comprised of community members, most of whom must be served by the center.. In other words, CHCs are required to be community-directed. Community Health Centers serve as a primary care provider for children and adults, offering typical services such as screenings, immunizations and OB/GYN care. Many also serve as a dental and mental health care provider. You can find CHCs in a variety of settings, from stand-alone clinics to school-based health centers. If you’d like to learn more about your local Community Health Center, visit the National Association of Community Health Centers.
How Can CHCs Provide Better Care for People with Disabilities?
Given their focus on serving traditionally underserved populations, Community Health Centers are uniquely (and often better) positioned to provide care to individuals with disabilities, including health promotion services. As with any health care provider, Community Health Centers can continually look to improve or sustain the care they provide to people with disabilities. Consider the following:
• People with disabilities should be thought of as a distinct population that makes up the diversity in your community. Seek to recruit patients/community members to serve on your Board and other governing bodies. Consider how well-equipped your Center is to communicate with and about the needs of individuals with disabilities. Use communication resources from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD).
• Do you evaluate your environment for accessibility? To serve people with disabilities means going beyond just accessible parking, doors and bathrooms. What other kind of diagnostic equipment do you have? Basic features such as wheelchair accessible scales and height-adjustable exam tables can vastly improve the experience of patients with disabilities as well as address safety concerns that may arise when providing care. The US Department of Justice has published “Access to Medical Care for Patients with Mobility Disabilities” that clearly illustrates the minimum that all health care providers must do to ensure access to basic screening and examination services. The web site www.ada.gov and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights also have a great deal of information on serving patients with disabilities.
• Continually look to build or reinforce the knowledge of your Center staff, no matter what their role. The National Association of Community Health Centers provides educational/continuing education on emergent issues, to include ensuring the accessibility of your web site and other topics. Other fundamentals to address could include basic disability awareness and face-to-face communication.
• Don’t forget that wellness goes beyond just being free from illness, and everyone should have the opportunity to be well. For many patients with disabilities, conversations with health care providers never go beyond their primary disability or diagnosis. Talk to patients about being physically active and eating healthy food. Use resources such as the Physician’s Toolkit from NCHPAD.