Primary Care Access the Focus on Capitol Hill

Gary Wiltz testifies before Senate  Subcommittee on access to care.

Gary Wiltz testifies before Senate
Subcommittee on access to care.

Community Health Center leaders were front and center today at a hearing chaired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging [press release].  The hearing, “Addressing Primary Care Access and Workforce Challenges: Voices from the Field” focused on the primary care access crisis, doctor shortages and strategies to boost the number of providers around the country.  Gary Wiltz, MD, NACHC’s Board Chair and CEO of Teche Action Clinic in Franklin, LA, was among those who testified before the panel [link to testimony].  Wiltz– whose health center is located in a rural parish with a large, low-income, uninsured population– described to the Senate panel how access remains a persistent problem in the community he services.

“Many of the residents in my state, both the uninsured and insured, are unable to access critical primary and preventative care services because they just can’t afford it or do not have access to a health center or other primary care provider,” he said.  “Clearly our work is not done. Despite the strong bipartisan support and the history of investment in our capacity, many communities in need still lack a health center or any other form of basic primary care. Even in communities with a health center, demand often far exceeds supply and significant unmet needs remain due to limited resources.”

Wiltz also illustrated how timely access to care can not only save lives as well as dollars and recalled a recent encounter with a patient.

“Just recently, one of my patients, who is employed but uninsured, came to the health center on a Saturday evening after he got off work at 6:00 PM. He was suffering from a severe headache due to dangerously high blood pressure. We were able to get him in, diagnose the problem and treat him that evening, which saved him from waiting for hours to be seen at an emergency room and paying over $800.00.  Our ability to see him and provide him with services when he needed care also allowed him to go to work the next day.”

Yet such access to primary care remains elusive for millions of people.  NACHC recently issued a report showing that 62 million Americans lack access to primary care largely because of a shortage of primary care physicians.  Sen. Sanders noted in his remarks that the U.S. will “need over 50,000 primary care physicians in our country” by next year.  Sanders added, “One of the great ironies of the moment is that while there are some people who think we save money by cutting back on public health programs, whether it’s Medicare or Medicaid, the truth of the matter is we end up spending more money by not providing acess to health care [and] dental care when people actually need it.  It’s a question of human suffering, it’s a question of preventing death, preventing illness and it is a question of saving money.”

Sanders also has introduced legislation to attract more doctors and other health care providers to primary care. The bill would boost funding for Community Health Centers and dramatically increase opportunities for medical school graduates to go into family medicine by expanding the National Health Service Corps (NHSC)

Dr. James Hotz, M.D., Clinical Cervices Director, of Albany Area Primary Care, a health center in rural Georgia, also testified during the hearing and told lawmakers, that the NHSC “is the single most effective policy innovation this country has ever developed to address the primary care workforce challenge.”


Media advisory about the hearing.

Information about the Sanders legislation.



Volunteers Make an Impact Every Day in Health Centers

J  Patnosh headshotNote: With the kick off of National Volunteer Week, NACHC’s Associate Vice President and National Director of Community  HealthCorps writes today’s guest blog about the spirit of volunteerism.

By Jason Patnosh

Community Health Centers were built on the backs of volunteer community organizers and clinicians nearly 50 years ago.  Today, volunteers continue to play an important role in health centers across the country.  During the week of April 6-12, 2014 America celebrates National Volunteer Week.  At NACHC, we also celebrate the thousands of volunteers who help health centers in three very important ways.

First, the majority of health center volunteers help health centers extend their services to the community.   They read to children in waiting rooms   or develop fundraising campaigns.  Their manpower is deeply appreciated.

Additionally, NACHC has been home to the Community HealthCorps, one of the largest AmeriCorps national service programs in the nation. Each year over 500 individuals provide a year of service in a Community Health Center and many of these AmeriCorps members help to recruit other volunteers for the health centers. In fact, over the last two years 14,404 volunteers were mobilized by AmeriCorps members. These volunteers served 81,484 hours for an estimated value of $1,786,830.[1]

Finally, all health center board members, a majority of whom are also patients of the health centers, are all volunteers and dedicate countless hours to ensure necessary medical and social services are provided to their fellow community residents. These board members commit to multiple years of service, travel to state and national conferences to represent their health center and serve as the voice for their health center in countless meetings with state and federal legislators.

NACHC is pleased to use this occasion to release a new resource: Community Health Center Volunteer Experiences. This one-pager will provided interested volunteers a brief background on Community Health Centers and how to seek a volunteer experience at a local health center.

While we recognize Volunteer Week we encourage you to thank your volunteers every day!

[1] Estimated value of volunteer time for 2012 is $22.14/hour

Vice President Joe Biden Thanks Community Health Centers at the NACHC P&I

“Good morning. Can you feel the excitement in the room? We are so proud today to have with us the Vice President of the United States! This is our opportunity to publicly express our graduate to Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for believing in our Community Health Centers and for moving forward with the promise of accessible and affordable health care for millions of Americans,” said NACHC Board Chair, Dr. Gary Wiltz as he opened the Friday’s NACHC Policy and Issues Forum General Session.

Despite the extra security measures and the schedule changes an excited crowd showed up early and packed the ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. They waited in anticipation for hear from the Vice President and gave him a standing ovation as he took the podium.

“You got this backwards, I came to thank you,” said Vice President Biden as he greeted the crowd.

Throughout his speech the Vice President touched on the optimism and the invaluable resource Community Health Centers offer the millions of American’s they serve.

On the optimism of health centers Vice President Biden said:

“You are the moral backbone of this country, you and so many thousands of people like you, who just believe in possibilities and believe it’s one person at a time.”“Without you the country would be a very different place. The thing I love about you all is that in the face of all you see you remain optimistic. It matters. You believe in possibilities. Great things happen when people believe.”

“This country has always been about possibilities. We’ve always believed that anything is possible and the kind of work you have done reflects that belief.”

On the invaluable resources health centers offer their communities:

“Think about what those cities, those communities, those neighborhoods would be like if you hadn’t been around all these years. Think of how fundamentally the lives of those communities would change without you.”

“21 million patients rely on you all, more than 3.7 million—about 18 percent—of your patients are children; for them and their families you’re the first place they go for primary care.  You’re the first time they’ve probably ever seen a dentist. The first time they’ve ever seen behavioral health services.”

“Community Health Centers are the indispensable resource for so many people out there who are underserved and underinsured. You’ve been the only place millions of folks have been able to go to for basic care. And in the process of treating your patients you have eased many of their concerns and fears about the Affordable Care Act. You’ve overcome language barriers and geographic distances. You’ve been so successful because people trust you.”

The Vice President also thanked health centers for their part in helping Americans sign-up for health coverage through the exchanges and Medicaid.

“The reason I’m here and Barack wanted me to be here is to thank you. Thank you so much for what you’ve done, not for us but for the American people. The president and I think you provide an incredible service to this country.”

“Just in the last quarter of 2013 you helped 2 million people in the face of that confusion. You helped them. You helped them enroll. They walked through your doors or they reached out to you in the community, and you made a difference. You answered their questions. You walked them through the enrollment process.

More than 5 million people now have signed up for the private health plans through the marketplace and that doesn’t include the numbers for those who now have access through Medicaid.

The Vice President added that while the enrollment process is complicated, the assistance Community Health Centers provide is a critical service to those newly eligible. 

“Look, it’s complicated, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s complicated for people who have never thought they’d be able to have insurance. No matter how good the bargain is, it’s especially challenging for folks who are looking at it for the first time. With patience and empathy, you look these people in the eye. And the first thing you do is you calm them down.”

“Not only do we need you, not only have done an incredible job but we owe more than we can possibly pay you for doing so much as you are for the American people. Thank you very much for all you do.”

Before ending his speech Vice President Biden also reminded the health centers that the deadline for enrolling is only days away and asked health centers to “remember why you are doing this in the first place. In these last ten days push as hard as you can. Expanding access makes a gigantic difference.”

2014 Policy and Issues Forum Kicks Off

Representative Elijah E. Cummings is honored by NACHC

Representative Elijah E. Cummings is honored by NACHC

The opening General Session of the 2014 NACHC Policy and Issues Forum set the stage for an exciting conference.  Up first was the  U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) who was honored by NACHC for his passionate leadership on behalf of health centers.  Cummings  set the room on fire with his words of support for affordable healthcare and Medicaid expansion to thunderous applause.  “When someone says they are going to turn down Medicaid dollars while people are sick, there is something wrong with that picture.”

Rep. Cummings reminded the crowd of health center leaders that the long hours and difficult cases they often confront are all for a greater purpose. “You may never appear on the front page of the Washington Post,” he said.  “No one may ever say, ‘thank you.’ You probably won’t even make the local super market tabloid but remember this: you change the trajectory of people’s destinies.”

Carolyn McClanahan receives the Excellence in Healthcare Jounalism Award

Carolyn McClanahan receives the Excellence in Healthcare Jounalism Award

The representative was followed by financial planner, physician and Forbes contributor Carolyn McClanahan who was honored for excellence in healthcare journalism. McClanahan is a big supporter of the health centers often writing about the economic savings and big impact they provide to the healthcare system.  The physician turned financial planner underscored the value health centers bring to healthcare while generating bipartisan support (see recent article for more).

Describing health centers as a “gem” McClanahan said, “Maintaining good health is key to a productive country. Every economist understands this. Community Health Centers can do this,” and called for “permanent, consistent funding” for health centers.

The writer also encouraged the crowd to tell the Community Health Center story by getting on social media and reaching out to everyone, including their representatives and health care journalists.

Jack Cradock receives the Cornell Scott Excellence in Leadership Award

Jack Cradock receives the Cornell Scott Excellence in Leadership Award

Finally, NACHC honored longtime East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) President, Jack Cradock with the Cornell Scott Excellence in Leadership Award. Serving on both the NACHC board and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, for nearly 40 years Jack has been on the forefront of initiatives to grow America’s Health Centers and expand health care access.

“What goes on here—this is people caring for other people, this is what a country should be. It’s been a pleasure and blessing,” said Cradock, who is retiring at the end of this year.

Follow the NACHC P&I conversation on Twitter by using #NACHCpi.

Celebrate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by Joining the 80 by 2018 Initiative

NACHC Board Chair, Dr. Gary Wiltz, joined other members of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT)—an organization founded by  the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—to launch  the 80 percent by 2018 Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative.  The NCCRT initiative focuses on eliminating colorectal cancer as a major public health problem and increasing the number of adults 50 and older who get screened for colon cancer regularly to 80 percent by the year 2018.

According to an ACS fact sheet, colon cancer incidence rates have dropped 30 percent in the U.S. in the last 10 years among adults 50 and older. During this same period colorectal cancer screenings have increased from 56 percent to 65 percent in 2010, indicating that the screening is making a difference. Now that more people have access to preventative services like colorectal screenings due to the Affordable Care Act, the NCCRT hopes to raise awareness and continue to increase the rate of preventative screenings.

Dr. Wiltz emphasized Community Health Centers’ commitment to providing quality primary and preventative care, saying “We stand ready to do our part in the prevention of colorectal cancer by providing outreach and affordable screenings in America’s most vulnerable and medically underserved communities.”

NACHC is joins more than 50  other organizations  that have already pledged embrace the shared goal of increasing national colorectal cancer screening rates to 80 percent by 2018.

Go here to watch the event. For tools and resources or to join the 80% by 2018 pledge visit: