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Geiger Gibson CHC marks 45 years as nation's first health center

12-14-10 Feature Story:

Columbia Point, Dorchester - Geiger Gibson Community Health Center (originally named the Columbia Point Health Center) opened its doors 45 years ago this week, establishing its birthright as the first community health center in the nation. Founded by Tufts University physician-activists H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson and local residents of the Columbia Point Housing Development, the health center sought to demonstrate what community-based medicine could achieve for health access and the quality of care in urban and rural neighborhoods. Investing control and policy-making authority in the Columbia Point community, the organizers formed a board of directors that included consumers of the health center's services.

Forty-five Years Later: Community Health Centers Still Leading the Way

Today, 52 Massachusetts community health centers offer a broad range of medical, dental and behavioral health care and social services through more than 285 sites located across the state. Nationally, 1,200 health centers serve 20 million people through 8,000 care sites. Based on their 45-year track record of providing quality, cost-effective and accessible care, community health centers are viewed by state and national policymakers as critical to the success of national health reform efforts. Recent funding opportunities through federal stimulus and health reform legislation for capital projects, job creation and service expansion at community health centers represent the largest investment in these institutions since the 1960s. These new and significant investments have the potential for transforming the way health care is delivered and the value that community health centers bring to the field of medicine in four major ways:

  • Expanding access to community-based primary care for more residents in Massachusetts and across the nation. Community health centers provide comprehensive care for populations with divergent, varied needs. As Massachusetts and the nation grapple with providing care to more, and a greater portion of the population struggles with access to locally accessible primary care, the patient base of community health centers is starting to expand. While some health centers are already serving the middle class, all health centers have the potential to become the first stop for primary care for everyone -- moving outside the traditional definition of patient populations served by health centers.
  • Serving as a model for patient-centered medical homes in Massachusetts. As the nation seeks answers for improving the quality and efficiency of health care, the health center model has the potential to prove that a coordinated and comprehensive approach to care delivery is a solution. Community health centers have long operated within a patient-centered care model, employing comprehensive care teams that include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse health educators, behavioral health counselors, language interpreters and community health workers who proactively plan care with patients. As a result, health centers have been able to tackle a range of public health challenges like smoking and obesity rates as well as lower the number of hospital emergency department visits and hospitalizations for patients with chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.
  • Serving as a model for Payment Reform in Massachusetts. The nation's health system is broken. Health care costs are unsustainable, access is declining and quality is waning. There is general consensus that we must restructure the way we pay for health care. The health center model has the potential to prove that a highly integrated approach to providing care is a solution. For example, community health centers have worked under an integrated provider care model for years. Because health centers have strong relationships with other local providers and, in many cases, offer dental, vision, pharmacy and behavioral health services on site, they are well-poised for payment reform models which are based on tightly managing patient care across multiple providers.
  • Demonstrating the benefits of committing more resources to primary care. In recent years, the burden of medical school debt, average starting salaries and a lack of teaching and training opportunities have prevented many medical students from pursuing their dream of primary care. New federal investments and innovative workforce policies implemented by health centers have the potential to stop this decline. By increasing loan repayment as well as training, teaching and research opportunities, health centers can lead the way in making primary care a more sustainable and attractive career choice for medical students.

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