This letter, from Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers, is in response to Wednesday's KHN story Community Health Centers Under Pressure to Improve Care:
Our nation’s Community Health Centers have a proud history of providing quality health care to over 20 million of America’s poorest – and highest risk – populations, living in urban and rural shortage areas. And they do more than provide access to care for vulnerable populations. As independent studies have documented for over 40 years, the care is both high quality and cost efficient – providing real value for America’s health care system and taxpayers.
The KHN article about Community Health Centers [Phil Galewitz, “Health Centers Under Pressure To Improve Care”], while addressing a legitimate topic, unfortunately provides a misleading impression of the quality of care they provide to their 20 million patients against a national average for all Americans. The article disregards the better quality care that most health centers achieve when compared to care provided to other low-income patients elsewhere.
At least the article does reveal what few Americans realize – that every health center reports on the quality of care their patients receive.
Too often, patients all over America walk into a doctor’s office knowing far too little about their own health status. For health centers, it’s a different story. The information they collect is not only an essential part of their everyday work, it is also part of a proud tradition of bringing proven interventions to people and communities who are more at risk for poor health than the general public. Sadly, one has to read further down in the article to understand how well the system is working, and that health centers exceed the national average in keeping chronically ill patients healthy and out of hospitals and ERs – particularly expectant mothers and people suffering from hypertension.
When you compare the federal data that is the focus of the article with national data from the National Center for Health Statistics, health centers performed better than national averages for entering women into prenatal care during the first trimester, childhood immunization rates, reduced low birth rates and hypertension control.
Quite simply, health centers succeed where others do not because they work hard to make sure patients do not fall through the cracks, even if it means following up with a phone call so the patient takes their medication or does not miss an appointment. Health centers are leaders in quality improvement precisely because they collect information to find problems and fix them.
In fact, when the Health Resources and Services Administration - the federal agency that oversees health centers - invested in the now unfunded “Health Disparities Collaboratives,” health centers improved health outcomes for patients with hypertension and diabetes, and lowered hospital costs.
Can we do better? Of course we can. As trusted community providers health centers are committed to a never-ending quest for quality improvement for our patients.
Tom Van Coverden
President and CEO
The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC)