Community Health Centers: Building a More Equitable Health Care System

Addressing disparities and serving those most in need.

By Steve Lesky, Program Officer, Healthy People Healthy Communities
Community Health Centers: Building a More Equitable Health Care System
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a tragic magnifier of the disparities that exist within our health and social care systems. However, it has also illustrated the importance and benefits of whole person care: an affordable system of patient-centered health, behavioral health, and social services with the goals of eliminating disparities and improved health outcomes.  Community Health Centers across  the nation are supporting health and addressing disparities through whole person care.  They will continue to play a vital role in their community’s response and recovery to this national health crisis. 

Community Health Centers started from a series of events in U.S. history calling for more action to address poverty, racism, and other forms of  social justice.  Moving on the opportunity presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives in the early 1960s, several determined community health and civil rights activists fought to improve the lives of Americans living in poverty and with no access to even the most basic of health services.  .

These pioneers submitted proposals to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity to establish health centers in medically underserved inner-city and rural areas of the country.  Funding for the first two “Neighborhood Health Centers” (as they were called at the time) – one in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in Mound Bayou, Mississippi – was approved in 1965, and the Community Health Centers Program was underway.  The health center model that emerged targeted the roots of poverty and discrimination by combining  local resources  with federal funds to establish neighborhood clinics   across America.

Today, Community Health Centers serve as the primary medical home for over 29 million people in more than 12,000 rural and urban communities across America.  These community based nonprofit health centers are trusted providers who deliver whole person care and address health disparities.  It is a system  that not only empowers communities to establish and direct health services at the local level via consumer-majority governing boards but is also generating compelling proof of the value and humanity  of whole person care. 

Community Health Centers were created in response to  poverty and racism over 50 years ago.  Cambia Health Foundation is proud to partner with and support their efforts.  We honor their impact and recognize the important work that remains to confront racism and eliminate health disparities.   

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