Community health centers, the leading providers of primary health care to the nation’s poor and uninsured populations, need strong partnerships and effective strategies to strengthen the current health care safety net, and to prepare for what may happen in the future, according to a new policy brief by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
The brief looks at a selection of Federally Qualified Health Centers, referred to as community health centers, in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and New York state that collaborate with other regional centers, local hospitals and health departments to improve and expand care, or work with legislators and advocacy groups to push for changes in health policy.
Their proactive strategy is a blueprint for community health centers nationwide, given the current administration’s proposed plans to cut billions of dollars in federal Medicaid benefits to vulnerable Americans, said Steven Wallace, associate director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report.
“These centers are working to do their best in the current environment,” Wallace said. “But all centers will also need a robust Plan B if resources provided by the Affordable Care Act are stripped away.”
The brief, based on findings from UCLA’s REmaining Uninsured Access to Community Health Centers project, looks at specific strategies community health centers in the four regions undertook to increase capacity and improve service after the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Among the findings:
“We found community health centers are being more than just practical when forming new partnerships,” said Maria-Elena Young, graduate student researcher at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and lead author of the brief. “They’re taking creative and innovative steps and thinking outside of the box to improve the safety net.”
Having a shared mission, understanding the political environment, incubating partnerships, and highlighting the benefits of aligning with community health centers were all factors that led to the success of each partnership strategy, according to the policy brief.
Authors recommend a series of steps that other community health centers can take to develop partnerships, such as having the centers include partnership-fostering as part of their long-term strategic plan; formalizing such partnerships; asking foundations to provide small grants to centers to build new collaborations; educating local hospitals on the value centers’ primary care services bring in lowering hospital readmission rates; and providing funding for staff dedicated to developing community partnerships and advancing advocacy efforts.
The policy brief is supported by the Commonwealth Fund.