Community Health Centers provide a vital role in access to care, health equity – Oral Health Watch

August 12-18 marks National Health Center Week, and Oral Health Watch is focusing this week’s blog on the vital role community health centers (CHCs) play in reducing health disparities and providing access to high-quality, culturally appropriate care for underserved communities.

CHCs are community-based and patient-directed primary care organizations whose mission is to serve populations with limited access to health care, including lower-income families with Apple Health (Medicaid) coverage, communities of color, rural communities, people who speak a language other than English at home, and uninsured and underinsured patients.

More than 25 million people in the United States– 1 in 12 nationwide – rely on community health centers for their primary health care, including dental, medical, behavioral health and substance use disorder care. In Washington state, more than 1 million residents access care at CHCs in urban, suburban and rural areas. More than half of all Apple Health-insured adults and just under a third of Apple Health-insured kids who access dental care each year do so at a CHC.

“Health centers serve the needs of people who face barriers to health care, and in many cases, need care the most,” said Bob Marsalli, CEO of the Washington Association of Community & Migrant Health Centers. “Community health centers are trusted primary medical and dental care providers, and play an integral role in addressing the social determinants of health.”

Earlier this year the Washington Legislature approved $16.5 million in capital funding for CHCs to build new or expand existing dental clinics across the state, as well as other oral health-focused projects. This investment will help ensure that oral disease prevention and early treatment are priorities, reducing the number of people who seek expensive emergency room care for dental pain.

“We are very excited about expanding our dental services,” Marsalli added.  “We know that poor oral health can lead to complications in pregnancy and is linked to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  CHCs focus on whole person care and dental is a critical component of that care.”

CHCs are often at the forefront of efforts to apply new and innovative approaches in care delivery, which then become standard practice in many accountable care organizations and other healthcare systems.

As CHCs continue to work toward improving the system for new and existing patients, their focus on integrated care and improving population health gets us closer to a system in which no one is left to suffer for lack of dental, medical or mental health care.

“Our goal is to provide quality, affordable and accessible health care, including dental care, whether our patients have an insurance card or not,” said Marsalli.

Click here to find a community health center closest to you.

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