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Community Health Care Centers Prepare for Rapid Growth

June 14, 2010

BISMARCK, N. D. - As part of the national push to make medical care more accessible and affordable, the health care reform bill passed by Congress this spring is expected to mean rapid growth for North Dakota's network of Community Health Centers.

The new law allocates about $11 billion over the next five years for Community Health Centers across the country, a major increase over the current $2.2 billion budget. Karen Larson, deputy director, Community Health Care Association of the Dakotas, says the centers will need that funding in order to expand facilities.

"Anything from new clinic sites to new clinic organizations, to expanding the services available at the ones that are already there. There is also some money set aside in that funding for some capital improvement, because many of the health centers are in older, or less-than-ideal facilities."

Since many more people will be covered by some type of insurance under the reform plan, Larson says Community Health Centers may be expected to provide much of the needed care. One challenge they already anticipate is finding the doctors and nurses they need to do the job, she adds.

"I really perceive the health center model as being at the core of that primary preventive health care, insurance or none. We're just hoping we can work with medical schools, nurse practitioner and P.A. educational components to say, 'How can we really train people to want to do this primary care work?'"

Currently, the Association has 49 sites in the Dakotas, and serves almost 7 percent of the population in South Dakota, and just over 4 percent in North Dakota. While the changes expected as a result of the sweeping new law might be difficult, Larson says she believes health care reform can be accomplished, if people are willing to collaborate rather than compete.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD