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Governor praises health centers as models for reform

3-9-11 Feature Story:

On the heels of filing his cost-containment legislation, Governor Deval Patrick has embarked on a series of statewide meetings with health care providers, including recent visits to Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center (SJPHC) and Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (Greater Lawrence). The meetings are intended to engender support and solicit input for health care payment and delivery reform initiatives that the Governor and legislative leaders have indicated will start to move forward in the months ahead.

The health center discussions have focused on a range of issues, including the high quality and cost-effective care that community health centers provide through their longstanding patient-centered primary care model. In a discussion led by Executive Director Thomas Kieffer at SJPHC, the Governor acknowledged that health centers are "already doing what we need all health care providers to be doing" and talked about elevating "the health center approach to a more global level."

In Lawrence, issues related to the primary care physician shortage served as a major highlight. CEO Robert Ingala and Chief Medical Officer and Residency Director Dr. Joseph Gavel talked about the important role the Greater Lawrence Family Medicine Residency program plays both in training and retaining primary care doctors in Massachusetts. In addition, Dr. Gavel emphasized the health and cost-savings benefits of ensuring that every state resident has access to a primary care physician through a medical home. Without enough primary care doctors, Gavel explained, patients are left to navigate the health system on their own, choosing higher-cost care through emergency rooms and forgeoing important preventive care that is critical to keeping them healthy.

As policymakers increasingly look to high quality, lower-cost provider models, community health centers are well-poised to respond. Since their inception in 1965, health centers have strived to provide a unique and comprehensive "brand" of primary care. Today, many health centers offer local residents the ability to receive primary and preventive care as well as dental, mental health, vision and social services -- all in one place.

In addition, the health center staffing model relies on teams of providers that include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse health educators, nutritionists and other clinical support staff. "By leveraging and building on our model of coordinated, patient-centered care, Massachusetts' policymakers can help slow health costs while increasing quality of care for more state residents," said League CEO James W. Hunt, Jr.

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