Yesterday was the first official day of the 2017 NACHC Policy and Issues Forum and a record crowd (standing room only) was treated to an abundance of wisdom during the Opening General Session. Let’s break it down. First, there were the remarks by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Michael Leavitt, the former Governor from the State of Utah and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle reminded attendees about what health centers bring to the table, despite the contentious political atmosphere in Washington, in terms of a mission and vision. He said, “What you bring to the table is something very rare. Despite the polarization, you continue to generate a bipartisan consensus and you must be very proud.” Daschle also spoke optimistically about the possibilities for health centers as Congress continues to debate funding for health care programs in the coming months, but he also advised health center leaders to think beyond the debate now and into the future.
“We have been debating health care for 100 years,” Daschle said. “You are already making history and have been at it for 52 years. You can make history in 2017. We need to start talking about becoming a high performing health care system. You are already credited with creating public/private partnerships valued at 3 trillion dollars.”
Leavitt also followed along the same themes of health centers reaching toward a vision and a future, saying “Community Health Centers have to go from being a safety net to becoming the foundation of primary care.” He also made the assessment that the winners in the ongoing effort to fix health care by Congress will be “the ones who deliver quality care at a lower price. Health centers do that, and you also have the moral advantage. And you have the stories. All Community Health Centers that I have spoken with have a story of people who saw a need and decided to do something about it. And all of those stories were unique.”
Another golden moment of the day was the NACHC Outstanding Achievement Award presentation to John Gressman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium. NACHC Board Chair Ricardo Guzman in presenting the award noted Gressman’s 30 years of service in the Community Health Center Movement and now, sadly, his decision to retire after running a “dynamic network with a reputation for quality care.” Upon receiving the award, Gressman stepped up to the microphone and spoke from the heart. He recalled how as a college student in West Virginia he was called to Appalachia to do a needs assessment for a health center. He said, “I remember interviewing people who were suffering from Black Lung Disease because they were miners, amputees who suffered from diabetes and women who ate clay because they were pregnant.”
Gressman described how that experience informed his tenure as a health center veteran and health center advocate at the state and federal level.
“Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders,” he told the audience who gave him a standing ovation. “Thank you for trusting me with your patients, your soul, and your vision.”
Stay tuned for our report on Day 2 of the NACHC P & I — we have grassroots advocates awards and a host of exciting events to write about!