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Data Show Health Centers Reducing ER Visits

Health centers often serve populations who struggle to find care from the private sector. Credit: DennisSylvesterHurd/Flickr
Health centers often serve populations who struggle to find care from the private sector. Credit: DennisSylvesterHurd/Flickr
August 12, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - New data released this week by the National Association of Community Health Centers indicate that the centers are serving more patients than ever, at more than 24 million people nationwide. In Illinois, more than 1 million people are served by 450 health center sites.

Nicole Plegge, communications specialist for the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, said many locations often cater to a population that may only have an emergency-room visit as an alternative.

"Emergency room is for emergencies," she said. "We're here for everybody, no matter if you're insured, if you're underinsured, we're here to provide primary health care for everybody that needs it."

According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, the centers lower emergency department visits and offer care at a fraction of the cost of an ER visit. Nationwide, almost 40 percent of ER visits are considered primary care in nature, and therefore preventable.

While Illinoisans with private or employer-supported health insurance have access to a variety of health-care options, Plegge said, health centers often serve populations who struggle to find care from the private sector.

"If someone is not insured, there is someone onsite where we can help them find insurance if they need it," she said. "So a lot of our health centers have that option for people because it can be difficult to navigate through."

Health centers serve one in 14 Americans for their health-care needs. Health centers started 50 years ago as a pilot project during President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

Aug. 9-15 is National Health Center Week.

More information is online at nachc.com.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL