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AZ Community Centers Take Lead in Health Reform

August 9, 2010

PHOENIX - This is National Health Center Week. In Arizona, it is meant to raise awareness about the 37 nonprofit, community-based primary care organizations with more than 150 locations statewide.

Tara Plese, director of government and media relations for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, says as a result of the federal health care reform law, Arizonans will now have more choices and places where they can access health services under a single roof.

"Pediatrics, OB-GYN, family practice. They have their own pharmacies, labs, radiology, dieticians, behavioral health specialists, dentists. It's the whole continuum of primary health care in one setting."

More than $1 billion in health reform and stimulus dollars are going to centers nationwide this fall to expand staff and facilities. Plese says the centers are crucial to providing services to the uninsured and victims of the recession, because they accept patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

According to Plese, community health centers also are key to health care reform because their organizational model saves money. She explains that treating people before they get so ill that they require hospital care is expected to save the nation's health care system up to $300 million over the next ten years.

"Our health centers do a chronic disease-management model, so people who have chronic diseases like heart disease, asthma, diabetes, are taught how to manage those diseases, and their families are taught how to manage those diseases."

Another way savings are generated is by providing a "health care home" for patients, emphasizing preventive care and avoiding the use of expensive hospital emergency rooms, says Plese.

"Most of our health centers have expanded electronic medical records. If they have a medical home, there is a consistency in their treatment, and you're able to follow that treatment throughout the time that they are patients in that health center."

The theme for National Health Center Week is "Celebrating America's Health Centers: Turning the Vision into Reality."

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ