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Cindy Stergar

CINDY STERGAR

One hundred ten thousand two hundred forty-one. That’s the number of patients who visited one of Montana’s Community Health Centers last year. As community health center, we are “rooted in community” and see one out of every 10 Montanans for their comprehensive primary care needs.

Established over 50 years ago, the health center network is at the forefront of delivering care to rural and under-served communities. This week is National Health Center Week, dedicated to honoring and recognizing the value a Community Health Center brings to its community and understanding why they are now at center stage in a changing health care landscape.

Montana CHCs provided 448,047 patient visits in 2018. CHCs provide primary medical care, dental care, integrated behavioral health care, and substance use treatment and pharmacy services. Seventy-seven percent of our patients are working families who live at or below 200% of federal poverty level, which is $32,190 annually for a family of four. As an employer and health care provider statewide, CHCs support 1,863 jobs and impact the state’s economy by over $225 million a year.

As a part of a nationwide network that is the family doctor to millions of Americans, the mission of Montana’s CHCs is to provide affordable, comprehensive, “whole person” primary care. Our model of care works by treating the whole family with an integrated range of services located under one roof. That way, our patients, including low-income families, veterans and the elderly, need not navigate a confusing maze of services to see a dentist or to fill a prescription.

At CHCs, our goal is to provide everyone with easy access to care no matter who they are, where they are from, or if they have an insurance card. We are proven innovators and problem-solvers in treating chronic disease. For example, 57% of our health centers use telehealth to reach more patients than ever before.

We look beyond medical charts not only to prevent illness but also address the factors that actually cause poor health, such as poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition, and unemployment. Patients may receive non-clinical services to connect them to community resources such as housing, job training, and child care.

Community Health Centers are on the front lines dealing with complex problems no one wants to think about, including the devastating opioid crisis, behavioral health, and the growing problem of obesity in economically challenged communities. If left unchecked, people with these conditions end up in hospital emergency rooms for costly treatment. Together, health centers across the county save the U.S. health care system $24 billion a year by managing health conditions and reducing unnecessary visits to the hospital.

Community Health Centers staffed by people of the community who believe that affordable health care should always be within reach for everyone. We invite you to learn more about health centers by visiting your local Community Health Center and learning about the range of services and programs it offers. Our clinicians and staff are your neighbors, and we are always ready for the conversation about your health goals.

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Cindy Stergar is CEO for the Montana Primary Care Association in Helena.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.