Guest Opinions

Guest editorial: Marking National Health Center Week

Herald Reader Representative

Tri-City Herald

Community Health Centers throughout the United States are celebrating National Health Center Week, and I’d like to invite you to attend one of the events being celebrated in the Tri-Cities and to learn about the important work that Community Health Centers (CHCs) do throughout the United States.

More than 2,000 CHCs serve more than 23 million Americans in 9,200 communities throughout the U.S. While CHCs see all types of patients, their focus is on providing primary care for the underserved and uninsured. Nationally, the patients that CHCs help include 260,000 veterans, 7 million children and more than 860,000 migrant, seasonal and agricultural workers. The centers also provide services for more than 1.1 million homeless people and approximately 475,000 patients receive their care through School Based Health

These centers are normally run by CHCs in partnership with local school districts. Their work not only provides critical health care to some of our most vulnerable people, but also are estimated to save the health care system $24 billion by reducing hospital and emergency room visits and costs.

In Washington state, we are fortunate to have a robust and effective system that includes 26 Community Health Centers with 236 different delivery sites. They served 922,216 patients in 2015. Washington CHCs also help our most vulnerable. Of the patients CHCs saw last year, half had an income at or below the poverty line and a third were uninsured. More importantly, CHCs served 1 out of 8 state residents and 1 out of 5 children under the age of 18. The work our CHCs do is not only important to the health of those they see but also to the welfare of our entire state.

In the Tri-Cities, the primary provider of services to the underserved and uninsured is Tri-Cities Community Health (TCCH), which was founded by five local women in Pasco in 1981. Its initial focus was to provide agricultural and migrant workers with access to quality health care, but today the mission is much broader. Tri-Cities Community Health focuses on providing accessible, quality health care to the underserved and uninsured.

It has added clinics in Kennewick and Richland and last year opened two school-based health clinics in partnership with the Pasco and Kennewick School Districts. Like many other CHCs, TCCH not only offers medical services but also dental, eye, behavioral health and WIC/Support Services. Last year TCCH provided over 125, 000 patient visits to more than 25,000 unique patients, nearly two-thirds of them on Medicaid and almost one-third were uninsured.

The organization is continuing to grow its capacity in both its medical and dental departments so it can provide services to all who need it.

I encourage all of you to take advantage of National Health Center Week to learn more about what Community Health Centers are doing for you and your community. If you want some first-hand experience, I invite you to attend Tri-Cities Community Health’s “Back to School Health Fair” on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at TCCH’s Kennewick Clinic at 3180 W. Clearwater Ave. Not only will you learn about the many services that Tri-Cities Community Health offers, but TCCH also will be giving out schools supplies and backpacks while supplies last.

Martin Valadez currently serves as Reader Representative on the Herald Editorial Board and works as director of Business Development and Public Relations at Tri-Cities Community Health.