Community Health Centers


Consider this: If everyone used a primary care doctor as their usual source of care, the U.S. health care system would save more than $67 billion each year. More important: This would improve the quality of care that patients receive.1

But not everyone can access primary care.

Community Health Centers At a Glance
$67 billion: Annual savings if everyone had a primary care doctor
60 million: People who lack a primary care physician
$18 billion: Annual costs of unnecessary visits to emergency rooms
$24 billion: Annual savings attributed to community health centers
$6 billion: Annual savings to Medicaid resulting from community health centers
$1263: Annual per patient savings to local economy

Why We Need Community Health Centers
Community Health Centers Offer the Answer
What Are Community Health Centers?

Why We Need Community Health Centers

Today, more than 60 million people in this country lack a primary care physician – someone to contact for regular checkups, screenings, and help for the common cold or earache.

For many of these people, the emergency room is their primary care medical home. Too often, they go there for conditions that could be treated easily in a community health center. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), unnecessary visits to emergency rooms cost the nation $18 billion annually.2

Further, because they have no regular primary care provider, many patients wait until a medical condition becomes severe, leading to hospitalization or lifelong chronic care needs.

Aside from poor health outcomes for patients, this delayed care inflates health care costs dramatically. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 75 percent of health care costs today can be attributed to treating chronic conditions.3

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Community Health Centers Offer the Answer

Community health centers offer the answer for quality patient care while reducing health care costs. Today, through emphasizing comprehensive preventive care and tailoring services to local needs, community health centers save the health care system an estimated $24 billion each year.4

Southside Coalition community health centers treated more than 158,000 patients in 2012. The average savings to Los Angeles County for each patient who, as a result, did not require hospitalization or visit an emergency department for primary care in a public hospital was about $1263.5 Clearly, if the coalition averted even half these patients from preventable hospitalizations or unnecessary emergency department visits, the savings to the county were substantial.

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What Are Community Health Centers?

Community health centers are community-driven grassroots organizations. You can’t get any more effective than when you’re embedded in the community. The critical points of care are delivered exactly where they are needed. – Yasser Aman, DrPH, former CEO of UMMA

Community health centers (CHCs) are community-based, patient-directed, medical homes that serve people who face limited access to health care. CHCs provide high-quality primary, preventive, and managed care to medically underserved communities.

By law, they must:

  • Be open to all residents regardless of ability to pay or insurance status
  • Target medically underserved areas
  • Offer comprehensive primary care services
  • Be directed by a local patient-majority governing board

Community health centers employ a team-based approach to care that includes physicians, physician assistants, nurses, nurse-midwives, dentists, mental health providers, social workers, health educators, and other health care professionals.

For 1 in 8 persons in the United States, the family doctor works in a community health center. CHCs serve 1 in 7 Medicaid recipients and 1 in 5 individuals living in poverty. In California, they serve 16 percent of Medi-Cal patients. Nationally, it’s estimated that CHCs save Medicaid $6 billion annually.6 Community health centers are central to implementing the expansion of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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Next: The Problems Community Health Centers Address

The Southside Coalition Story
How Well Do Community Health Centers Really Work?
Patient-Centered Medical Homes
The South Los Angeles Safety Net: Filling the Gaps
How the Southside Coalition Is Strengthening the Local Safety Net

1Stephen J. Spann, MD. 2004.
2National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). The Need.
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009 (Dec. 17). Chronic Disease Prevention.
4NACHC. 2011. Fact Sheet #1211, p. 1.
6NACHC. 2011 (Sept.). Fact Sheet #0911.