Friday, October 5, 2007

"So, what's a Community Health Center?..."

After my residency program, I started my practice by joining a large medical group here in Kitsap County. I worked there as a family physician, including the delivery of OB services, for eight years. I then took a job as Medical Director at my current practice, a Community Health Center.

I must admit that I had no idea what a Community Health Center really was until I started having lunch with Dr. Bob Rozendal, our previous Medical Director. At that time, I had been working in the community for a few years, and thought I had a good understanding of the health status and needs of our community; I couldn't have been more wrong.

A Community Health Center is a practice which is partially funded by the Federal government as a grantee of the Bureau of Primary Care, one of four bureaus of the Health Resources and Services Administration. Other names which might be applied to this practice model include:
  • Federally-qualified Health Center ("FQHC")
  • "Safety Net Provider"
  • Federal 330 Clinic - named for the section of the Public Health Service Act which authorizes funding for this program.

To quote the Bureau of Primary Health Care's website:

"Health Centers are community-based providers of comprehensive primary and preventive health care and enabling services to medically underserved populations. Many Health Centers also offer comprehensive dental care and mental health and substance abuse services."

What we are NOT as a Health Center:

  • We are not "owned/run by the government." - We are an independant, nonprofit agency, which is "owned" by the community and run by an all-volunteer Board of Directors, the majority of which must be patients whom we serve.
  • We are not one national system. - There are ~1,000 different Community Health Center systems across the country, with about ~6,000 delivery sites. Because of local ownership and patient-driven Boards, each Center works to meet it's own community's needs, and may offer markedly different services.
  • We are not a "free clinic" - There are wonderful people doing remarkable work in Free Clinics across the country, as seen at the website for the National Association of Free Clinics. We charge patients on a sliding fee scale based upon their ability to pay.