What are Community Health Centers? — April 2010

From Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) website:

"For more than 40 years, HRSA-supported Health Centers have provided comprehensive, culturally competent, quality primary health care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations.

Health centers are community-based and consumer-run organizations that serve populations with limited access to health care. These include low income populations, the uninsured, those with limited English proficiency, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and those living in public housing.

Health Center Program Fundamentals

  • Located in or serve a high need community (designated Medically Underserved Area or Population). Find MUAs and MUPs.

  • Governed by a community board composed of a majority (51% or more) of health center patients who represent the population served. Learn more about health center governance.

  • Provide comprehensive primary health care services as well as supportive services (education, translation and transportation, etc.) that promote access to health care.

  • Provide services available to all with fees adjusted based on ability to pay. Learn more about the sliding fee scale.

  • Meet other performance and accountability requirements regarding administrative, clinical, and financial operations.

Who Health Centers Serve

  • People of all ages. Approximately 37 percent of patients in 2006 were children (age 19 and younger); about 7 percent were 65 or older.

  • People without and with health insurance. The proportion of uninsured patients of all ages, held steady in 2006 at nearly 40 percent, while the number of uninsured patients increased from 4 million in 2001 to 6 million in 2006.

  • People of all races and ethnicities. In 2006, 23 percent of health center patients were African American and 36 percent were Hispanic/Latino — almost twice the proportion of African Americans and over two and a half times the proportion of Hispanics/Latinos reported in the overall U.S. population.

  • Special populations. In 2006, health centers served more than 807,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families; nearly 829,000 individuals experiencing homelessness; and more than 129,000 residents of public housing.

Types of Health Centers

  • Grant-Supported Federally Qualified Health Centers are public and private non-profit health care organizations that meet certain criteria under the Medicare and Medicaid Programs (respectively, Sections 1861(aa)(4) and 1905(l)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act and receive funds under the Health Center Program (Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act).

    • Community Health Centers serve a variety of underserved populations and areas.

    • Migrant Health Centers serve migrant and seasonal agricultural workers

    • Healthcare for the Homeless Programs reach out to homeless individuals and families and provide primary care and substance abuse services.

    • Public Housing Primary Care Programs serve residents of public housing and are located in or adjacent to the communities they serve.

  • Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alikes are health centers that have been identified by HRSA and certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as meeting the definition of “health center ” under Section 330 of the PHS Act, although they do not receive grant funding under Section 330.

  • Outpatient health programs/facilities operated by tribal organizations (under the Indian Self-Determination Act, P.L. 96-638) or urban Indian organizations (under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, P.L. 94-437)."

How are Primary Care Associations involved with Community Health Centers?

Primary Care Associations are typically governed at the state level and represent a states' network of community health centers and clinics.

From the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association (serving Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) website:

"Our mission is to support and advocate for community based organizations providing high quality, cost effective, comprehensive health care services to underserved communities in the Northwest. We believe that strengthening the infrastructure and leadership capacities of health centers is the key to expanding access and providing critical health care services to the medically underserved. Accordingly, our programs and services

  • Enrich the network of primary care clinicians by focusing on recruiting, placing and retaining qualified individuals in Northwest health centers

  • Build skills of health center staff through valuable continuing education while emphasizing best practices across a spectrum of functions

  • Strengthen the ability of health centers to deliver culturally competent, high quality primary health care to their communities

  • Promote a health care system that provides competent, compassionate care on an equal level to all residents in the Northwest."