America’s Health Centers owe their existence to a remarkable turn of events in U.S. history, and to a few determined community health and civil rights activists working in low-income communities during the 1960s. Millions of Americans, living in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas throughout the country suffered from deep poverty and a desperate need for health care. Among those determined to seek change was H. Jack Geiger, then a young doctor and civil rights activist. Geiger had studied in South Africa and witnessed how a pioneering community health model had wrought astonishing improvements in public health. You can view a video of Dr. Geiger recalling the early days of the Community Health Center Movement at the 2010 NACHC Policy and Issues Forum. You can also view a timeline of the Community Health Center movement by visiting this link.
In the 1960s, as President Johnson's declared "War on Poverty" began to ripple through America, the first proposal for the U.S. version of a Community Health Center sprung to life at the Office of Economic Opportunity. Funding was approved in 1965 for the first two neighborhood health center demonstration projects, one in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.
Today, there are 1,200 Community Health Centers serving over 22 million people at over 9,000 sites located throughout all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, health centers meet escalating health needs and bring good health to needy communities, without regard to family income, health insurance status, race, culture or health condition. In communities fortunate enough to have a health center, fewer babies die, emergency room lines are shorter and people live longer, healthier lives.
Both the Institute of Medicine and the General Accountability Office have recognized the nationwide network of health centers as effective models for reducing health disparities and for managing the care of people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and HIV. The American Academy of Family Physicians’ Robert Graham Center found that the total cost of care for health center patients is 41% lower annually than the total cost of care for individuals served by other providers (see NACHC fact sheet on cost savings). Health centers demonstrate that high-quality, continuous care to people and communities without adequate sources of health care can improve health outcomes, narrow health disparities, and generate significant savings to the health care system – up to $29 billion in annual savings -- while bringing much-needed economic benefits to the low income communities.
Fact Sheet: This fact sheet provides background information on community health centers and the patients they serve.
Community Health Centers, Meeting America's Most Pressing Needs
The 2009 NACHC brochure provides an overview of America's Health Centers, their mission and accomplishments.