OPINION: New Jersey’s Community Health Centers Strengthen The Health Care Safety Net

By Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd

This is National Health Center Week, a time to showcase the comprehensive and patient-centered care provided by New Jersey’s 20 community health centers and their 105 satellite facilities. This year’s theme—“Powering Healthier Communities”—celebrates the key role health centers play in improving the health of our communities.

Governor Chris Christie has signed a proclamation honoring New Jersey’s health centers for providing a medical home and cost effective care to all who come through their doors—whether they have private insurance, are uninsured or participate in Medicaid or Medicare.

New Jersey’s community health centers are treasured assets in their communities. That is why Governor Chris Christie provided a record $50 million in the current state budget to reimburse health centers for the medical care they provide to the uninsured. Since the Governor took office he has increased funding to health centers $10 million. In addition, the state Department of Health provides nearly $9 million in grants to health centers for an array of health services including immunizations, cancer screening, HIV counseling, testing and treatment and management of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Neighborhood health centers have been around for nearly a half-century since the “War on Poverty” in the early 1960s. The first community health centers in New Jersey opened in 1969 in cities like Plainfield and Trenton and they have been making our communities healthier ever since. They are also sometimes called Federally Qualified Health Centers or FQHCs.

Recent studies have found that health centers reduce Emergency Department use by Medicaid patients and increase health education for uninsured patients and appropriate care for those with diabetes.

In rural areas as well as urban areas, community health centers provide prenatal care, well baby care and immunizations to prevent childhood diseases like whooping cough and measles. They provide screenings for blood pressure, cancer, cholesterol and HIV. Many provide dental care and operate mobile vans for underserved populations like migrant workers. Some are located in schools and others specialize in serving the homeless and mentally ill. Most have extended evening and weekend hours and some have pharmacies on-site.

Last year, community health centers provided care to 450,000 patients during 1.4 million visits. Many of those patients would use hospital emergency rooms for primary care if they did not have a health center to serve as their family doctor.

Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito and I have visited many of New Jersey’s community health centers—from urban West New York to the rural farmland of Salem and we have seen the tremendous difference health centers make in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. This week, Department leaders will visit several health centers as part of National Health Center Week including Neighborhood Health Services Corp. in Plainfield and Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton.

Throughout the week, health centers around the state will provide free medical screenings, dental care, immunizations, nutrition classes HIV testing, picnics and information about programs like the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJCEED), which provides education and screening for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer. To find event near you visit www.healthcenterweek.org, click on seeking an event, click on New Jersey

I would encourage everyone who needs a medical home to visit a health center near them. For more information about community health centers, please visit www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/cphc/

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