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Governor Patrick marks National Health Center Week; Issues proclamation declaring MA health centers as models for reform

8-11-13 Feature Story:

State House, Boston, MA - In recognition of their national leadership and far-reaching contributions to the state's health care system, Governor Deval Patrick today issued a Governor's Proclamation to mark National Health Center Week (NHCW) across Massachusetts. NHCW is an annual celebration which highlights the work of health centers in the more than 7,000 communities they serve nationwide.

In Massachusetts, 50 health centers provide care to some 820,000 residents, offering a broad range of health care and social services through more than 285 sites statewide. Nearly 50 years ago, the first health center in the nation was founded at Columbia Point, Dorchester, by physician-activists H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson. Just two years later, a young Senator Edward M. Kennedy helped to expand the model across the country, creating a federal program that now serves 20 million people.

This year's theme -- Celebrating America's Health Centers: Transforming Health Care in Our Local Communities -- underscores the important role health centers are playing in the delivery of locally-based, value-driven health care in Massachusetts and across the nation.

"As the nation seeks answers for improving the quality and efficiency of health care, the health center model continues to prove that a coordinated and comprehensive approach to care delivery is a solution," said James W. Hunt, Jr., president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.

Community health centers have long operated within a patient-centered care model, employing comprehensive care teams that include physicians, nurse practitioners, health educators, behavioral health counselors, language interpreters and community health workers who proactively plan care with patients. As a result, Hunt says, health centers have been able to tackle a range of public health challenges that include smoking and obesity, as well as the prevention and management of chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, depression and cancer.

This focus on and wide availability of preventive care has ramifications for the rest of the health system. Based on a recent study by George Washington University, health centers generate over $1,200 in savings per person a year by reducing the rate of preventable hospitalizations, inpatient days, and emergency room use. In Massachusetts, health centers care for nearly 30 percent of the Commonwealth's Medicaid patients at a cost of only 1.3 percent of total state Medicaid spending.

"These numbers are pretty stunning when you consider the complex needs of the patients health centers serve," said Hunt. "Many have more than one chronic illness and remain at higher risk for developing dental problems and mental health issues. What's more, a large number of health center patients also struggle with job insecurity and access to healthy food."

The state's health centers will also be working to enroll eligible residents into new health insurance programs that will be made available in January 2014 under the federal health reform law. Community health centers will help get the word out to local communities, train their personnel on eligibility guidelines, and assist residents in signing up for coverage.

Click here to view National Health Center Week events happening near you.

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