This blog is written by Gina Capra, who is a non-employee guest blogger sharing perspectives on community health centers with UnitedHealthcare Community & State. Capra’s authored content outside of this blog may not be representative of UnitedHealthcare Community & State’s perspectives or business approach and should not be considered endorsed by UnitedHealthcare.
Many underserved populations depend on community health centers, also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), for health care. In fact, there are 1,400 centers with more than 13,000 care delivery sites across the country today. Before COVID-19, these centers served more than 30 million patients. That number has only increased since the start of the pandemic.
With a direct line into their communities, health centers are uniquely positioned to identify immediate needs that impact local health. NACHC supports these centers and the work they do for underserved populations, and is helping improve care delivery at the community level in partnership with UnitedHealthcare Community & State.
The role of health centers in health equity
When the pandemic began, community health centers did what they do best — they responded quickly with much-needed resources to serve their communities. Not only are these centers part of the nation’s safety net, but they are the first line of response during public health emergencies.
Health centers have kept pace through every evolution of the pandemic, including testing more than 10 million patients for COVID-19. Today, 99% of health centers continue to test for the virus, and 78% have walk-up or drive-through testing options available. Now that a vaccine is available, as of the time of this blog posting in May 2021, health centers have also vaccinated more than 5 million people nationwide, with over 65% of recipients being Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).1
These centers play their role so well because they act locally and stay agile. As the health system evaluates how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted underserved communities, FQHCs set the example of what it means to work toward ensuring accessible care for all. The entire care system can learn from this work as we explore what health equity looks like for the future of health care.
Coordinating COVID response efforts
Protecting communities is a team effort, and managed care organizations, health centers and state departments are all working toward the same goal — to improve health outcomes for all. Still, FQHCs have struggled to get the supplies they need to best serve their communities during the pandemic. UnitedHealthcare Community & State has helped reinforce the critical role these centers play in improving population health and coordinating with state health departments. Since the rollout of the vaccine, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has also been working to create a federal supply program that would allow health centers to order additional vaccines directly through the federal government to improve availability and reliability. Through these collective efforts, we can better support FQHCs in their efforts to keep communities safe through testing and vaccinations.
Supporting and refreshing health center workforces
Health center workers have been working tirelessly during the pandemic. Apart from providing care, FQHCs have been striving to find new ways to provide transportation services, translation services, health education and outreach to communities heavily impacted by the virus. Administrative teams are completing an endless amount of reporting and accounting to ensure the integrity of the funds and systems introduced since the beginning of the health emergency. And even as vaccination rates improve and we begin to emerge from the pandemic, FQHCs will see an influx of patients looking to catch up on delayed care. This includes a renewed focus on behavioral health and substance use concerns, with many individuals facing greater challenges since stay-at-home orders were put in place.
By joining the mission of health centers with Community & State’s systems and expertise, we can collaborate on hard-hitting challenges, bring relief to health workers and build momentum for what comes next. Our team at NACHC continues to appreciate the partnership we have with Community & State. Their willingness to have candid conversations about caring for staff and improving patient health allows us to excel. It’s exciting to think about what we will accomplish together in the future.