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VA's Community Health Centers: Ready for Surge of New Patients?

PHOTO:  A new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that clinic medical centers can provide even better care than private practices. Image by  Royalty-Free/Corbis
PHOTO: A new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that clinic medical centers can provide even better care than private practices. Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis
August 8, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - It's National Health Center Week, and Virginia's more than 100 community health centers have much to celebrate, according to a recent report.

The study by the Stanford University School of Medicine compared the federally funded centers with doctors' private practices around the nation and found that CHCs fared very well. Dr. Lauren Elizabeth Goldman at the University of California-San Francisco was the lead researcher.

"Looking at a set of quality indicators for ambulatory care, federally qualified health centers performed as well - or better, in some cases - than other physicians in private practice."

The study looked at 18 measures, including treatment of congestive heart failure and blood-pressure screening. In six of the measures, it found that community health centers outperformed private practices. They were equal on 11, and the CHCs performed worse on only one measure, which involved diet counseling for at-risk adolescents.

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, about 32 million uninsured people will have coverage by 2019, and community health centers are in line to pick up many of those patients. Roderick Manifold, executive director of Central Virginia Health Services, says Virginia is well poised to handle the flow.

"We've been doing a lot of preparation in terms of getting our sites expanded; in some cases adding new sites around the commonwealth of Virginia. Additional staff have been hired or are being sought after."

Manifold says he hopes the various "Health Center Week" events at CHCs this week will help raise awareness that quality health care is available to Virginians regardless of their ability to pay. At many sites, CHCs include behavioral health and dental care as well as primary care.

More information about the Virginia Community Healthcare Association is online at vacommunityhealth.org.

The Stanford study is at stanford.edu.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA