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Serving the Underserved: Community Health Centers Celebrate 50 Years

Healthy snacks, blood pressure screenings and school supplies are all part of a celebration of National Community Health Center Week at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of Gerrard Jolly.
Healthy snacks, blood pressure screenings and school supplies are all part of a celebration of National Community Health Center Week at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of Gerrard Jolly.
August 11, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – What began 50 years ago as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty is now a robust health care delivery system of Community Health Centers, serving 24 million patients nationwide.

Gerrard Jolly, national director of Community HealthCorps, says health centers provide everything from medical and dental care to behavioral and even translation services, and help remove obstacles that keep people from seeking regular care.

"Just being able to have transportation to a doctor's visit, and helping those individuals understand just how the health care system works," says Jolly. "To be able to navigate the challenges that health insurance itself often presents to people."

With more than 200 health centers in Michigan, dozens of clinics from around the state are hosting special fairs and community outreach events during National Health Center Week, running through Friday. Health centers serve an estimated one in 14 Americans, many of whom are uninsured or under-insured.

Jolly, who was in Grand Rapids to kick off a health fair at Cherry Health, says many people on Medicare and Medicaid struggle to find providers, and either go without care or end up in the emergency room. He says health centers help break that cycle by focusing on healthy habits.

"How to prevent illnesses before someone becomes sick," says Jolly, "is a huge cost savings to individuals and to the health care system overall."

According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, health center facilities offer care at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit, and result in fewer emergency visits to hospitals.

The centers also are the largest health-focused program for AmeriCorps, with more than 500 Community HealthCorps volunteers serving nationwide.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI