A Healer and Advocate in Colorado

licona 2It is unfortunate if you have lived on this planet without meeting  Virgilio Licona, MD.  Those of us who have been in the same room with Dr. Licona, as a patient, colleague, or audience to one of his thoughtful speeches about healthcare, well, we just feel grateful to have stood near his shadow.  Dr. Licona has made the world a better place, and continues to do so.  But we write about him today because we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of health centers, and this month are focusing our efforts on the people who have helped the movement and mission thrive.  One of those people is Dr. Licona, who has been practicing medicine for more than 40 years.

Dr. Licona has been a Vice President of Medical Services at Salud Family Health Centers, in Fort Lupton, CO, since 2000.  (Salud is an extensive primary health care delivery system with eleven community, migrant, children, and women’s health clinics in northeastern and north-central Colorado). He is without doubt a national leader in providing culturally appropriate, quality care to special populations.   He doesn’t just provide care as a doctor.  Rather, he takes the time to understand the intricacies of health policy at the local, state, and national level because doing so helped arm his efforts as a passionate advocate on behalf of the medically underserved.

“I first met Dr. Licona at a NACHC grants training in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was working at another health center at the time and recall being blown away by his passion and knowledge,” says Jennifer Morse, Vice President of Development for Salud.   “Years later, I had the good fortune to join Salud and to work WITH the very rockstar every day. His commitment to our patients and communities is inspiring and unwavering. He is an incredible colleague, always encouraging you to grow, learn and contribute your best, as our patients, mission and history as a health center demands it of us!”

He served three-year terms on the National Advisory Council of the National Health Service Corps and the National Rural Health Advisory Committee, and was the immediate past president of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians.  Dr. Licona used his leadership positions as a bully pulpit to push for better access and better quality of care for those who need it most.  And when he pushed people listened to his message not because he was right, but because he had the grace and humor to win over even the staunchest opposition.  Dr. Licona was  also the recipient of the Colorado Minority Health Forum’s “Outstanding Contributor to Minority Health Care in Colorado for 2000,” and it’s worth noting that the award is now called the “Dr. Virgilio Licona Award” because he cast the mold.

For these reasons and many more Dr. Licona is also a recipient of this year’s Samuel U. Rogers award, which will be presented at the NACHC Community Health  Institute and EXPO next month.   The award was established in 1977 in honor of the late Dr. Samuel U. Rodgers, a health care provider, community activist, and national leader in health and civil rights, and is presented to a distinguished primary care clinician who exemplifies excellence in clinical practice and leadership at the local, state, or national level.

If you have someone working at your health center who is as a cool as Dr. Licona tell us about him or her, and we’ll feature them on this blog.




Improving Oral Health At Home and Abroad

20150105_SerioKids ashxAs part of our yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the health center movement we are spending the month of July taking a closer look at some of the faces in the health center world. Today our focus is on a healthcare hero located in rural North Carolina. Dr. Francis Serio of Greene County Health Care, Inc., (GCHC) in Snow Hill will be honored with the Humanitarian Award by the American Dental Association (ADA) in November. Dr. Serio not only provides affordable dental care to patients at GCHC,  but he has also spent 30 years traveling to the impoverished Dominican Republic to help people who otherwise have little hope of receiving affordable dental care. The Dominican Dental Mission Project (DDMP) started back in 1982 when Dr. Serio traveled on a one-man mission to the area to help. Today, the project has provided more than $15 million worth of dental care and medical supplies to some 60,000 people in the Dominican Republic.

“Dr. Serio’s efforts to expand access to oral health in rural North Carolina and abroad in the Dominican Republic embodies the spirit of the Community Health Center Movement to provide care wherever and whenever it is needed,” said Doug Smith, CEO of GCHC. “We could not be more proud that Dr. Serio is being honored with this national award.”  Greene County Health Care, Inc. serves over 40,000 people in Eastern North Carolina every year.

Stay tuned to this blog for more updates about healthcare heroes in the Community Health Center Movement.

Serving Health Centers Through Community HealthCorps

We’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Community Health Center Movement with a special focus on workforce throughout the month of July. Today we begin with a closer look at Community HealthCorps, the largest health-focused AmeriCorps program founded by NACHC  in 1995 with the mission of improving healthcare access and boosting the health center workforce.  Community HealthCorps Program Specialist Anastasia Romanova is today’s blogger.  She interviews Ariella Camera, a Community HealthCorps Alum and 2013 Presidential Management Fellow about her experiences in the program and life thereafter.

AR: When and where did you complete your AmeriCorps term with Community HealthCorps?
AC: I served with Community HealthCorps from 2009-2010, right after graduating from Pennsylvania State University, at Hudson River HealthCare (HRHCARE) in Haverstraw, NY, which is just a few miles away from where I grew up in Rockland County, NY.

AR: Why did you decide to join Community HealthCorps?

Ariella with Olga Escobar in Honduras during her Global Brigades trip.

Ariella with Olga Escobar in Honduras during her Global Brigades trip.

AC: I got hooked on the idea of public service in high school while volunteering at the Rockland County Department of Health with Reality Check on the anti-tobacco movement. In college I had the opportunity to volunteer internationally with Global Brigades, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering student volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities. I considered the Peace Corps but AmeriCorps, specifically Community HealthCorps, was a better fit because I really wanted to go back home and serve my local community. As a Biobehavioral Health major, I also wanted to apply what I learned in my studies at Penn State to make a direct impact in the health of a community and to connect my knowledge of healthcare with actual community needs.

AR: What did you do in your service?

Ariella and Community HealthCorps Program Coordinator Patti Dale

Ariella and Community HealthCorps Program Coordinator Patti Dale

AC: My service site was unique because, at the time, it was transitioning from a mobile clinic to a traditional health center. This transition gave me the opportunity to assist in building a partnership with the community center across the street and with other local stakeholders within the community. Half of my time was spent directly in the health center providing patients with referrals to anything from specialty care, like vision, to community resources, like food pantries. When I wasn’t in the health center, I was at the community center where I mostly worked with the local youth and led health education classes.

AR: What do you feel is the biggest impact you made during your service?
AC: Several of my Community HealthCorps teammates and I had the opportunity to create and facilitate a mentorship program at a local high school in Peekskill. Being able to bond with the local students after school on a regular basis was not only incredibly rewarding but gave us a chance to see the positive impact we could have on our students just from being there to listen and encourage them to aim high.

Ariella with her Community HealthCorps team helping at a food drive with the Nyack Homeless Project.

Ariella with her Community HealthCorps team helping at a food drive with the Nyack Homeless Project.

AR: What do you recall as the biggest challenge you had to overcome during your service?
AC: I would say my two biggest challenges also gave me an opportunity to truly understand the population I was serving and further develop my passion for increasing access to quality health care.  Throughout my service term, in order to afford rent and other expenses, I had to pick up two other part-time jobs in addition to serving full-time. Living paycheck-to-paycheck and having almost no down time, was one of toughest aspects of my service, but it definitely brought me closer to the patients I served in the health center and the realities of trying to survive off of an income that was below the poverty line. As an AmeriCorps member, I also had very basic health insurance, which made it much more difficult to access specialty care. This helped me empathize with the many people with whom I interacted and served that were in the same situation and something that made me infinitely more grateful and dedicated to my service.

AR: What do you feel is your biggest take away from your service experience?
AC: I can narrow it down to two things. The first would be how critical Community Health Centers are to this country’s healthcare system. During my service, I witnessed firsthand how crucial the health center where I served was for its patients and the nearby communities. It didn’t take long to see that, if Hudson River HealthCare did not exist, the families of that community would likely be unable to meet their basic health needs and would be hard-pressed to find quality healthcare providers truly invested in their well-being. The second would be how important it is to build partnerships and leverage local stakeholders within the community to get involved with the health center initiatives and activities, in order to make a sustainable impact.

Ariella during her USAID Global Health Bureau assignment.

Ariella during her USAID Global Health Bureau assignment.

AR: How did your service affect the choices you made regarding your professional goals?
AC: Looking back now, my experience as a Community HealthCorps Member gave me direct exposure to the community health field and allowed me to interact with and understand the needs of real life patients and community members. It most definitely helped me get to where I am today and continues to be the foundation of what drives me to stay motivated to serve.

After Community HealthCorps, I wanted to continue in public service as a government employee and started working in the clinical psychiatric research department for the Boston Veteran Affairs Healthcare System. Through my participation in the Boston AmeriCorps Alums chapter, I learned about the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and pursued my MA in Sustainable International Development. In my second year of graduate school I decided to apply to the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF).

In my first year as a PMF, I had the unique opportunity to support the development and implementation of the Federally Facilitated Marketplace as a part of the Affordable Care Act rollout. Recently, I finished a 5-month rotation with USAID Global Health Bureau focusing on strengthening health care systems and improving quality of care internationally. It has been an unbelievable year to say the least; I felt like I came full circle, getting to be a part of healthcare history in the making and fulfilling a passion for increasing access and strengthening health care systems.

*The views expressed above belong solely to Ariella Camera, and do not represent the official views of the federal government.

How Far We Have Dreamed

NHC1969-2014Our focus during the month of June has been to retrace the 50 year history of Community Health Centers through the lens of an individual health center.  That is what brought us to Neighborhood Healthcare, an award-winning health center in southern California that is marking its 46th year of providing quality care. How did it all begin? With a lot of goodwill, one doctor, few resources and a team of volunteers at a small clinic in Escondido. In the 1970s the health center was granted nonprofit status, added dental services (on a volunteer basis) and finally acquired a new building to expand services to more people in need. From there, the dream grew.

“When I started working at Neighborhood Healthcare in 1986, there were three part-time doctors and I was the 7th employee,” recalls Tracy Ream, CEO of Neighborhood Healthcare. “The health center was located next to a migrant camp. Looking back, I remember the magic that happened when we hired a vibrant female physician from Cuba. She spoke Spanish and the patients loved her.  After that, we quickly expanded services, including prenatal care and we outgrew our existing building. Growth has continued since then.”

Under Ream’s leadership, the health center has grown from one site to 10 which span two counties, San Diego and Riverside.   Over 62,000 people depend on Neighborhood Healthcare for services that include medical, dental, behavioral health, health education, pharmacy and lab. The center also provides quality care (with clinical measures often exceeding national Healthy People 2020 goals) to people of all ages, from children to seniors. Neighborhood Healthcare’s patients have many faces, but the fastest growing  minority population coming through Neighborhood Healthcare’s doors are families who have fled from war-torn Middle Eastern countries such as Irag and Syria.

In addition to providing care, Neighborhood Healthcare also contributes to the local economy with an annual operating budget of $50 million and as an employer of over 600 professionals.

“In September we will be opening our 11th health center in Hemet, California,” said Ream. “Our continued growth is a testament that we are as relevant now as we were when we first opened our doors with volunteer physicians. Our staff certainly finds meaning and purpose in what we do. Come visit us and you’ll  find our 6th employee is still busy working at Neighborhood Healthcare as our IT Director.”

Watch the video below to learn more about how Neighborhood Healthcare changed and grew for the past 45 years.

Does your health center have a history and a story to tell? Tell and we will write about it on this blog.


Where We Began and How Far We Have Come

CPHC 1985_1989 (00000002) GGCHC TodayTo measure how far we have come we first have to look at where Community Health Centers started 50 years ago. It began with a cause, and then an opportunity.  The cause was lack of access to basic healthcare among the poor, and the opportunity was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s major War on Poverty initiatives in the mid 1960s. Doctors Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, then affiliated with the Preventive Medicine Department at Tufts University School of Medicine, submitted proposals to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity to establish health centers in medically underserved urban and rural areas.  Funding for the first two “Neighborhood Health Centers” (as they were then called) – one in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in Mound Bayou, Mississippi – was approved in 1965. The health center which opened its doors in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood a few months later was Columbia Point Health Center. Establishing a health center in Columbia Point made sense for a lot of reasons. The Department of Preventive Medicine already had a longstanding relationship with the Columbia Point Housing Project in that neighborhood. Fourth year medical students  had been providing care to residents since 1954.  Also, the demand for care was overwhelming. According to the book, “Community Health Centers: A Movement and the People Who Made It Happen” (Bonnie Lefkowitz), even though the housing project was four miles from major hospitals, visits to them took an average of six hours, including travel and waiting time. Once the health center opened for business, as many as 200 patients per day received services.

Columbia Point also launched a local grassroots movement that saw eighteen more health centers established in Boston by 1971.  The collective success of these health centers in delivering healthcare services gained the notice of local and national leaders, including Massachusetts U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Now, 50 years later, the re-named Geiger Gibson Community Health Center is one of the founding members of the larger Harbor Health Services, Inc., which administers five Community Health Centers in three counties in eastern Massachusetts.

  “Clearly much has changed in 50 years but much has remained of the original ideas,” says Dan Driscoll, President and CEO of Harbor Health. Driscoll has been with Harbor Health for 38 years, and visited Columbia Point in its early days. “The vision that Jack Geiger and Count Gibson had for a ‘pre-payment plan’ to finance care has become a capitated arrangement for Medicaid patients. Their concept of community participation is now a fully empowered and legally responsible community board of directors. Geiger and Gibson always saw the health center mission as more than medical care. Today, those services include outreach using community residents, financial counseling, domestic violence advocacy, substance abuse treatment, medical – behavioral health integration, case management and the provision of career ladders for staff.”

Indeed, addressing the whole health of the person and the factors that may contribute to illness, rather, the social determinants of health, is one of the hallmarks of the health center movement and a key to its record of success in reducing healthcare costs, unnecessary hospitalizations and visits to the hospital emergency room. Harbor Health Services stays true to that mission and also continues to focus  resources on the needs of the local community. In addition to providing services to 27,000 patients, including  10,000 dental patients. Harbor Health also saw the need for delivering services to the growing numbers of elderly who were homebound. They offer an Elder Service Plan, which now cares for 450 people. They also run a Women Infant Children Nutrition Program for more than 3,000 women and their children.

 “The scope and size of the health center program nationally is most likely larger than either Jack Geiger and Count Gibson had dared hope for, but today the Columbia Point Health Center/Geiger Gibson Community Health Center remains, along with our rural cousin, Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou Mississippi, as lasting signs of the resiliency of the movement and its mission,” said Driscoll.

Help us celebrate the 50th anniversary throughout the month of June by telling us about your health center’s journey.