Nevada’s community health centers are valued aspects of society | SierraSun.com

Nevada’s community health centers are valued aspects of society

Tracey Green, MD
Special to the Bonanza

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more Nevadans than ever now have health insurance coverage. One of the covered benefits is the provision of preventative health services and treatment for most illnesses.

With so many Nevadans having coverage, the primary health care system has been overwhelmed with people trying to access services. This is a problem that persists nationwide. A key part of the solution to this problem lies in our nation’s community health centers.

Community health centers have provided quality, affordable care for the past five decades and are increasingly becoming the go-to medical resource for working Americans. These often-overlooked sites are the focus of National Health Center Week, August 9-15, 2015.

What began as a modest demonstration program in the mid-1960s has evolved into the largest and most successful primary care system in the country. Since their inception, community health centers have demonstrated impressive results in reducing infant mortality, improving immunization rates, developing programs for early screening and treatment of cancer, and managing chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Today, community health centers serve more than 23 million Americans, including about 7 million children and 260,000 veterans at more than 9,200 sites across the country.

The demand for community health center services continues to grow as more Nevadans seek health care. In any given community, health center services are conveniently offered under one roof and may include dental services, a pharmacy, mental health and substance abuse counseling, vision services, pediatrics, geriatrics, OB-GYN, and much more.

Community health centers go beyond simple health care delivery to solve problems that can affect community health, such as nutrition and joblessness. In Nevada we have four community health centers: Community Health Alliance in Reno, Northern Nevada Hopes also located in Reno, First Med Health and Wellness in Las Vegas, and Nevada Health Centers statewide.

Each community health center is unique and through innovative models is working to deliver services to Nevadans in need. To illustrate, Community Health Alliance opened a school-based clinic to reach students where they spend most of their time.

Northern Nevada Hopes has a monthly food drive and regularly helps the homeless. First Med Health and Wellness is providing free and/or low-cost vaccines at back-to-school fairs for children who qualify, and Nevada Health Centers has a mobile “Mammovan” that travels to rural areas so women can get free mammograms.

There are health centers such as ours across the country that save the U.S. health care system more than $24 billion every year via preventable hospitalizations and avoidable emergency room visits. In Nevada, community health centers saved our state health care system $98.2 million in 2014.

Broad bipartisan support locally and nationally has ensured that hundreds of families in our communities have access to health care through these community health centers.

National Health Center Week 2015 is an opportunity to celebrate the successes of community health centers and to thank them for their services. For more information, visit healthcenterweek.com.

Tracey Green, MD, is Chief Medical Officer for the Division of Public and Behavioral Health for the State of Nevada.