Sharing the Good News

We want to get this week off to a good start by celebrating the good news (and there is some good news these days).  First, on Capitol Hill an overwhelmingly bipartisan coalition of House and Senate lawmakers sent letters to key subcommittee chairs, urging them “to recognize health centers as providers of high quality, cost-effective primary care,” and to ensure continued funding for a model of care that offers a “bipartisan solution to the primary care access problems” facing the U.S.  You heard that correctly:  “a bipartisan solution.”    We thought this was news-making enough that we issued a press release about it.    The Senate letter was signed by 62 Members of the Senate (39 Democrats, 22 Republicans and 2 Independents).  The House letter was signed by 307 Members of the House (178 Democrats, 129 Republicans).  That so many people of opposite political perspectives, who may disagree on many pressing issues in healthcare,  found agreement on one important issue, is indeed something to celebrate.

“In an era when nearly every issue breaks down along party lines, it is clear that majorities in each party support smart investments in access to primary and preventive care. We hope and trust policymakers will take this into account as this year’s appropriations process moves forward,” observed Dan Hawkins, Senior Vice President for Policy and Research at NACHC.

Compounding that good news was an article published in AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) News that describes how health centers “play a major role in protecting the safety net.”  The article, by reporter Michael Laff, notes that health centers “are emerging as the first stop for innovative approaches in patient care and employee engagement.”  The article highlights the recent NACHC report on workforce and showcases a recent briefing NACHC hosted on Capitol Hill, which featured a panel of health center leaders who talked about ways their health centers are innovating in patient care and in workforce building.




NACHC P & I Round Up

P&IPHOTOIt was over in a flash but we loved the 2016 NACHC Policy and Issues Forum. It was great to see the throngs of grassroots advocates descending on Capitol Hill for their visits with Members and staff, many posting their photos on the “Twitterverse.” We also enjoyed honoring the grassroots advocates for their passionate work on behalf of health centers at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The takeaways are overwhelming when you are under the same roof with more than two thousand people who dedicate their lives to community health and affordable care. For instance, one learns about the longstanding impact of public health problem and the critical role that health centers play as trusted providers. Specifically, the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the healthcare needs of the affected community was an issue of focus.

“Michigan is the canary in the coal mine that represents the underinvestment in care to communities in need,” said Kim Silbilsky, Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA). “We are not truly successful until we have people in communities who truly have access to care the way you and I have.” Ms. Silbilsky, who is retiring, was presented with the NACHC Lifetime Achievement Award at the General Session.

Jim Macrae, Acting Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration also underscored the important role of health centers during his general session remarks, “Your role in public health is essential,” he said, citing the health center response to the Zika virus threat in addition to the Flint water crisis. Macrae also praised the NACHC report [see press release] on workforce challenges at health centers, noting that nearly 60 percent health centers said they hired someone who trained at their health center. We agree that this is a pretty remarkable statistic! And this, too: more than 18 percent of health centers have hired a current or former patient.

Aside from the general sessions, there were also a host of education sessions that brought into focus the nuts and bolts of operating a health center — sessions about payment reform, leveraging hospital partnerships, oral health, and the 340B drug pricing program.  Looking at the list of sessions one can get a sense of the exhaustive variety of issues that health center providers deal with on a regular basis, and have done so for more than 50 years.

If you were not fortunate to attend the NACHC P & I you can experience the next best thing by following the #NACHCpi16 hashtag on Twitter and check out the posts and photos.

Next up on the conference agenda is the NACHC Community Health Institute, which takes place in Chicago on August 26th.

Workforce, Innovation the Focus at NACHC P&I

Low REZ 0022 (002)The NACHC Policy and Issues Forum is off to an exciting and eventful start. On the eve of the national conference, NACHC issued a new report, Staffing The Safety Net: Building the Primary Care Workforce at America’s Health Centers.”  The report reveals almost all Community Health Centers (95 percent) are currently experiencing at least one clinical vacancy, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) are recruiting for at least one family physician.

“There is not really one silver bullet to address all of these issues,” said Jana Eubank, NACHC, Associate Vice President for Research and Policy, in an interview with HealthLeaders Media.  “In terms of community-based training, one thing we are going to be pushing in Congress is to continue to support the Teaching Health Center program that provides seed money and support for community based training and Community Health Centers. We are also supporting additional residency dollars for nurse practitioner training programs. There are some programs in the books that could be funded more robustly to help training opportunities at the community level.”

The findings of the report were also noted in a Capitol Hill briefing with a panel of speakers from Community Health Centers that are leaders in innovation. Kerry Hydash CEO, Family Healthcare Network Visalia, CA, described the incentives at her large central California health center to recruit and retain staff. Family Healthcare not only recruits from the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), but the health center also works hard to ensure their workforce is fully integrated into the community.

“We provide socials for our staff, we have a basketball league and picnics… We also started a grandparent relocation program so the staff can live closer to their families, ” said Hydash.

Vincent A. Keane, President and CEO of Unity Health Care Inc. (Unity), in Washington, D.C., noted, “What Community Health Centers are doing is not just innovation but continuing to grow from our roots in terms of training the primary care workforce of tomorrow.”

Keane also described how Unity operates a Medical Training and Residency Community Campus to provide medical school training for osteopathic physicians who will work predominantly in primary care settings. The campus is the result of a national and local partnership, where medical students are placed into Unity’s network of health centers after completing their first year of medical school in Arizona and then will complete years two through four of their medical education at the Unity community campus.

Manny Lopes CEO, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) Boston, MA, also described his health center’s innovative work in establishing a clinical strategy to integrate behavioral health into primary care,”We are connecting the mind back with the body,” he said, and described to attendees how clinical teams work with individual patients to develop care plans that address whole health. EBNHC is among the 271  health centers awarded a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to address the national epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse [see HHS press release].

After the briefing, the national conference kicked off at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, with thousands of health center advocates preparing to descend on Capitol Hill and press their case for strong investment in strengthening primary care, workforce building, and to network with each other about how to continue to lead innovation.  The conference will continue through the week and we will keep you posted on developments as they happen.

Join the NACHC P&I conversation online follow @NACHC on Twitter and #nachcpi16.

A Focus on Workforce at Community Health Centers

Justin Wheeler, vice president of clinical services at Clinica Family Health.

Justin Wheeler, vice president of clinical services at Clinica Family Health

Kevin Vu, associate medical director for Open Door Community Health Centers

Kevin Vu, associate medical director for Open Door Community Health Centers

The heroic and dedicated workforce at America’s Health Centers have been on our minds lately. Next Tuesday NACHC will issue a report about the workforce at Community Health Centers that aims to provide detailed status  of clinical vacancies.  Today, we take an up close and personal snapshot. Who are the people who devote their lives and careers to community health? They are people like physician Justin Wheeler, vice president of clinical services at Lafayette, Colo.-based Clinica Family Health, and Kelvin Vu, associate medical director for Open Door Community Health Centers in Arcata, Calif.

A native of rural Montana, Wheeler grew up in a family with limited resources, so he understands that access to quality healthcare is critical.

“The opportunity to extend respect and honor to people through healthcare is really powerful, especially the ability to see people as people, not just as diseases, conditions, or problems, no matter where they come from,” he says. As a first-generation college student, Wheeler says he was concerned about being able to afford tuition in the schools where he was accepted.   “Heading out on this path as a guy from a rural background was scary, and the safety net and support of the NHSC helped me be more confident in pursuing my goals,” Wheeler explains. “It’s a privilege to be educated, trained, and connected to the mission of the NHSC.”

Meanwhile, Vu grew up in a Vietnamese-American immigrant family in Southern California, where he learned about the challenges immigrants and first-generation Americans face when they seek healthcare. Language barriers and other cultural or socioeconomic factors can present obstacles that prevent patients from accessing the care they need. Vu also recognizes the lack of access to primary care services that is common in rural areas. As he explains, these issues helped motivate him to become a healthcare provider and address these issues.

“I’ve made a few good choices in life, and the NHSC scholarship was definitely one of them,” Vu says.

Clinica Family Health  serves an urban, predominantly Spanish-speaking patient population. The health center provides prenatal care and obstetrical care to women and children, and many of Clinica’s patients have chronic diseases, including mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and diabetes.

“Having witnessed the transformative power of healthcare firsthand as a kid, as a son, as a father, as an adult, and as a provider,” says physician Justin Wheeler, vice president of clinical services at Clinica Family Health, “I firmly believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. It’s a right that benefits people individually, benefits families, and benefits communities.”   

Open Door Community Health Centers operates 11 medical and dental clinics throughout Northern California. As associate medical director, Vu focuses on provider recruitment, provider retention, and outreach programs for improving patient experience. Vu also serves as medical director for Open Door’s Mobile Health Services, which treats patients who are homeless or who have limited access to transportation.

“What I enjoy the most about my job is the diversity of my patients,” Vu says. “Though many of my patients are underserved, I truly feel that I’m a healthcare provider for all people—on any given day, I can see anyone from a college professor, to a homeless person, to my car mechanic.”

Both Wheeler and Vu received National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarships that enabled them to pursue working in Community Health Center settings. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers the NHSC, a federal government program that helps build healthier communities by supporting clinicians committed to working in urban, rural, and frontier areas of the country with inadequate access to care. The program does this primarily through the NHSC  Scholarship Program and NHSC Loan Repayment Program, and Wheeler and Vu are two of more than 9,600 clinicians serving in the NHSC  nationwide

For Wheeler and Vu, working in Community Health Centers to address the nation’s primary care shortage is more than a professional responsibility. It’s a personal one, given their own experiences. And both physicians credit their NHSC scholarships with giving them an opportunity to help fulfill one of America’s great needs: providing quality primary care services to America’s most vulnerable patient populations.

The application cycle for the NHSC Scholarship Program opens this month, To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit


NACHC Goes on a Field Trip

Recently, a handful of NACHC employees were privileged to learn more about the Community Health Center Movement in Baltimore on a visit to Park West Health System. Park West was founded by Janie Geer, a community activist who saw a need and decided to do something about it. The health center rose from humble beginnings as a small clinic in a church basement.  Over the course of forty years Park West evolved into a model health center, averaging 50,000 patient visits a year who can access care at four locations in Northwest Baltimore.  One of those locations is a clinic that is located inside a ShopRite grocery store. The QCare clinic, as it is called, offers extended hours for convenience and is open seven days a week.

NACHC staffers were able to hear more about Park West’s services from CEO Dr. Allen Bennett, PD, MPH, and tour the Belvedere Avenue location with Medical Director and Pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Johnson. Most NACHC employees don’t get to see the Community Health Center work happening on the ground so this trip was very informative and affirming of the good work health centers do.

“Having never been to a Community Health Center, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the personalities that work at one. I was very pleased to meet such a professional and passionate group of people that really sold the mission to me on an emotional level,” said Sugath Karunaratne, NACHC Online Training Specialist. “Seeing and hearing how deeply they care about their work really made me think about my place in the professional world and how I’d like to be that fervent about what I contribute to society.”

Check out some of the photos of our visit below. Want to share something interesting about your health center? Let us know

Dr. Johnson gives a tour of Park West

Dr. Johnson gives a tour of Park West

Park West's Pediatrics Department

Park West’s Pediatrics Department

Dr. Bennett shares plans for Park West's expansion

Dr. Bennett shares plans for Park West’s expansion

Dr. Denise Turner, PD shares some information about the Park West on site pharmacy

Dr. Denise Turner, PD shares some information about the Park West on site pharmacy