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Celebrating Community Health Centers

August 10, 2012

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri.

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri.

This week, we join our colleagues across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in celebrating the work of the HHS-supported community health centers during National Health Center Week. The centers provide preventive and primary care services to more than 20 million Americans every year and are important partners in implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

For more than 45 years, community health centers, supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), have delivered comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. During that time, community health centers have become the essential primary care medical home for millions of Americans, including some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.  In 2011, 1,128 community health centers operated more than 8,500 service delivery sites that provided care to approximately 20.2 million patients in every State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Pacific Basin. Nearly two-thirds of those receiving care were members of ethnic and minority groups. Thirty-six percent have no health insurance; approximately one-third are children. As we look toward the future, community health centers are poised to play an essential role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act established the Community Health Center fund that provides $11 billion over a 5-year period for the operation, expansion, and construction of health centers throughout the Nation.

National Health Center Week - August 5-11, 2012 - Celebrating America's Health Centers - Powering Healthier Communities.

Leaders of the Community Health Centers program at HRSA have been important partners in developing, implementing, and monitoring the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. As highlighted in the recently released HHS NHAS Implementation Progress Report, the health center program has taken significant steps in the past year to advance us toward the Strategy’s second goal of improving access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV.  These activities have included:

  1. Releasing two Program Assistance Letters to the health centers addressing HIV testing and HIV care and treatment;
  2. Collaborating with HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau on new Funding Opportunity Announcement, HRSA 12-171 HIV Early Intervention Services (EIS) Program New Geographic Service Areas, to increase access to HIV care and treatment services for people living with HIV/AIDS;
  3. Adding training sessions to the BPHC Technical Assistance Catalogue for Grantees that address HIV services;
  4. Posting links to useful HIV/AIDS resources on the BPHC Technical Assistance webpage; and
  5. Working to identify promising practices and strategies for addressing common challenges associated with expanding HIV service delivery. Some of these will come from the 54 health centers engaged in the capacity building program of the National Center for HIV Care in Minority Communities (NCHCMC), an AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC) supported by HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau.

Recently, Mr. James Macrae, Associate Administrator for Primary Care at HRSA, shared with the health center network and with us additional information on progress made in expanding HIV testing and the availability of HIV care in community health centers that also warrants celebration: In 2011, health centers provided HIV testing to 883,548 patients, a 13.02% increase from 2010. In addition to testing more patients, health centers provided care to 94,605 HIV-positive patients in 2011, a 4.4% increase from 2010. These promising statistics speak to the tremendous capacity that community health centers have to help us identify the one in five Americans living with HIV who are unaware of their infection and to engage them in high quality continuing HIV care.

Please join us in saluting the nation’s community health centers for these significant HIV-related accomplishments and for all of their work to meet the primary and preventive care needs of some of the nation’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. Their work is key to our national efforts to achieve the goals of the NHAS. We look forward to continued collaboration with our health center partners at the national and local levels and their continued expansion of HIV prevention, care, and treatment across the network of health centers.

Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H. is deputy assistant secretary for health, infectious diseases, and director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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