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Making Sure Uninsured North Dakotans Can Get Medical Care

August 10, 2011

BISMARCK, N.D. - The vital role community health centers play in North Dakota is in the spotlight this week, during National Community Health Center Week.

The centers work to improve the health of their community members by making sure everyone has access to quality, affordable care in a state where more than one in four people is without health insurance.

One unique aspect of the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas and its five organizations and 13 community delivery sites, says chief executive officer Scot Graff, is that no one is turned away.

"Anybody can walk through the door and receive services, whether they have a means to pay, have coverage through private insurance, public-supported insurance - Medicare, Medicare - or have no coverage at all."

Community health centers, according to Graff, are also broad-based, providing much more than traditional, primary medical care.

"They have to also look at the oral-health needs, dental care; the behavioral-health, mental-health and substance-abuse needs of the community; the public health and preventive services."

With a mission to ensure access to quality and affordable health care for all, Graff points out that staff members would likely make more money if they were in private practice. However, he says, they recognize the importance of their work in the neighborhoods they serve.

"We hear often from the clinicians that are in community health centers that they are there for the passion of the work and the patients that they serve. They can see the difference that they make every day."

The centers can help keep the cost of health care in check through effective delivery of care, Graff says, because it's much more efficient and affordable to get an uninsured patient in for preventative care or chronic disease management than to have a situation where that patient waits until the illness is so acute that he or she ends up in the emergency room.

National Community Health Center Week is observed on the second week of August each year. More information on North Dakota's community health centers is online at communityhealthcare.net.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND