In Brief

The federal government needs to step up its commitment to community health centers and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), including enhancing mental and behavioral health services, psychologist Dennis Freeman, PhD, told the Senate Subcommittee on Public Health at a March 22 hearing.

Freeman, who spoke on behalf of APA and the Tennessee Primary Care Association, explained the great need for integrated health and mental health services in underserved areas and how increased funding for NHSC and community health centers could help meet that need.

His testimony was part of the subcommittee's hearing on the reauthorization of the National Health Science Service Corps and the Community and Migrant Health Centers. "Every community needs a tightly woven network of prevention, primary care and behavioral health services providing visible, ready access to our most needy citizens," said Freeman, chief executive officer of Cherokee Health Systems, a safety net provider in Tennessee.

Freeman also urged the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Public Health to:

  • Expand the community health-centers system into a nationwide network of centers that would create access for all unserved Americans.

  • Increase funding so that health centers could expand their behavioral health-service capacity.

  • Reauthorize the National Health Service Corps, which places health professionals in needy areas in exchange for loan forgiveness, as a companion program of the health-center program, and expand its capacity to recruit and place psychologists and other behavioral health practitioners. Expanding the program would help meet the needs of rural and urban areas with an urgent need for more health and mental health providers.

"As funding becomes available for new health center starts or expansion to new sites, the Corps will be an invaluable and necessary companion program," Freeman said.

--D. SMITH