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Community health centers provide prime examples of low cost, high quality health care

Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

National Health Centers Week held Aug. 10-15, 2009 nationwide drew attention to the bright side of the health care debate and encouraged legislators to support reform bill.

Community Health Centers serve 18 million people nationwide, providing low income, uninsured patients with primary, preventive, dental care, addiction rehab, treatment for chronic and terminal diseases like HIV.

Megan Havey, Jenice Contréras, Francis Afram-Gyening
, and
Willie Austin.

Photos by Arooj Ashraf,
La Prensa

Ohio has six community health centers with over 150 locations, with three parent centers in Cleveland—Care Alliance Health Center, Family Neighborhood Practice, and North East Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, Inc., serve more than 60,827 patients annually through their 11 locations.

Francis Afram-Gyening, Chief Executive Officer at Care Alliance Health Center, thanked community supporters present at the reception, held Aug. 13, for stepping up to meet the challenges and sustaining the health centers, saying they serve the most disfranchised populations, 94 percent of whom live below 100 percent poverty line.

The three centers share a strong partnership and serve distinct populations in the East, West, and Central parts of Cleveland.

Care Alliance’s strategic location allows it to serve the homeless population in downtown. NEON serves the predominantly African-American community of the East side, especially men between the ages of 18 and 55, who do not qualify for any other health programs. FNP serves the Westside, which has an increasing Latino population.

Jean Therrien, Executive Director of Neighborhood Family Practice, collaboration between the Cleveland centers strengths the safety net for patients, “We are very proud of the collaboration between the three centers and instead of competing we are able to create a bigger pie ... and the community is better off because of it,” she said. Therrien boasted 50 percent of NFP staff is bilingual, “We are very proud of that fact,” she said.

State representatives Sherrod Brown, Dennis Kucinich, and Marsha Fudge were invited to tour the facilities and told there is strong support for health care reform among center patients. 

Jenice Contreras, Director of Development at Care Alliance Health Center said they want supporters of reform to speak up and, “Right now they are only hearing from the tea-baggers and they need [to hear] from people who are for reform.” Care Alliance is encouraging its patients to sign and mail letters of support to Senator Brown.

Lindsey Reynolds, Government Affairs and Advocacy coordinator at Ohio Association of Community Health Centers said preventive care provided by community health centers reduces hospitalization and unnecessary use of emergency services, which drive up costs. She said because community health centers serve everyone regardless of ability to pay, insurance, or residential status they can treat patients who would otherwise delay doctor visits.

The health care bill presented by the U.S. House of Representatives includes new funding for health centers programs till 2019 and will save up to $80 billion in overall health care costs when combined with other proposed chances such as expansion of Medicaid.

Ingrid Vargas, Outreach Coordinator at WellCare, is skeptical of the proposed health care reform and said Pres. Barack Obama is trying to solve too many problems in a single swoop. “These issues took years to develop,” she said.

Rahman Nelton

Vargas suggests there should be more oversight of programs like Medicaid and preventing abuse of these services can save enough money to pay for the changes proposed. In its current form, she said, the health care bill resembles a “credit card health system,” which will lead to more problems—“It’s like robbing one pot to pay for another.”

Vargas said trying to insure everyone will overburden taxpayers—“Let the people who don’t want to be insured remain uninsured,” Vargas said.

Reynolds said federal investment in health care would allow for increase in public awareness of the centers, development of new locations, enhanced and comprehensive services in all existing centers so they can better serve patients who are most vulnerable. 

Rahman Nelton, a patient of Care Alliance, was an alcoholic, who turned his life around with the holistic care he received at the center. “Coming in as an alcoholic and admitting it is a tough thing to do and Care Alliance gave me the dignity and respect no one else was willing to,” he said.

Nelton thanked everyone at the center, saying they cured his addiction, healed his body, and the dental staff made him feel pretty which gave him the confidence to get a job. “You don’t think about those little things but they matter a lot,” Nelton said.

On the Internet: Health Care Alliance: www.carealliance.org
Neighborhood Family Practice: www.nfpmedcenter.org
North East Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, Inc: www.neonhealth.org





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