-The Community Health Team-

When we say “health center”, you think _____?

Words can mean different things to different people.

We take great pride in being a health center and find that many people confuse it with free clinics. So, we wanted to define what a community health center is, and what a community health center is not.

A Community Health Center Is

The CDC defines community health centers as “community-based and patient-directed organizations that serve populations with limited access to health care”.

A Provider of Accessible, Affordable Primary Care Services

Community health centers provide high quality, culturally competent healthcare services.  A compassionate team provides the care at your community health center. They help you improve your health for your body and your mind.

In addition to regular checkups, primary care includes sick visits, the diagnosis and regular treatment of chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, and screening for cancers. Preventative care in the form of screenings and tests can greatly reduce the chance of bigger health issues occurring down the road. Even better, preventative measures are generally less expensive. A doctor’s visit and prescription is cheaper than an emergency room visit or surgery.

A Hub for All Essential Healthcare Services

To best ensure its patients receive the care needed for a healthy life, you can receive most services in one location on the same day. This holistic approach includes dentists, pharmacies, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and more. Rather than send patients to one doctor’s office or another, it can provide essential healthcare services under one roof.


Health centers are patient-centered -- and it’s not some marketing gimmick. To be classified as a health center, the organization’s Board -- the people that are in charge of decisions -- must have a majority (at least 51%) of community-served patients. That means, by nature, health centers are driven by patients, from the top-down. It means that patients shape the governance and leadership of health centers. No single decision about what it does or how it does it, can be decided without first being approved by a majority group of patients.

Funded by Federal Grants and Insurance Providers

Health centers receive their funding through grants, and traditional forms like Medicare, Medicaid, and billing patients’ insurance providers. Health centers that are funded through federal grants must comply with the grant requirements. Grant requirements are usually strict, and reporting must be thorough. Federally funded health centers are held even more accountable to keep all the programs in place. Health Centers do not rely on grants to operate. Rather, the grants simply add additional resources for programs and services identified in the community needs assessment. A community needs assessment collects information from the community by telephone surveys, focus groups and collecting input from interviews or conversations.

The acceptance of Medicare, Medicaid, and regular insurance providers, means two things: 1) underserved patients can access high-quality healthcare by getting a bigger bang for their limited buck, and 2) people with work-provided or private health insurance can access the patient-driven model of health centers with their same co-pay. All patients of a Health Center are asked to apply for a healthcare discount, which is based on the current federal poverty level guidelines. People with or without insurance may be eligible for a healthcare discount saving money on copays, prescriptions and costly dental services.

A Fighter that Overcomes Patient Obstacles

Health centers provide a range of services that increase patient access to healthcare. This includes transportation, translation, and healthcare education. Health centers’ main goal is to increase access to high-quality healthcare, often for underserved communities. In addition, health centers reach out to all community members, and strive to see they receive high quality, integrated care. Providing these additional services helps achieve that goal.

The health care system can be complex to navigate. Health center staff are trained to help people understand resources available for them such as: housing, food, transportation, specialty referrals assistance, and patient education. Health Centers partner with community organizations to provide additional resources for people such as birthing classes, family services, food pantries, schools and so much more.

A Community Health Center Is Not

A Free Clinic

Health centers are very different from free clinics. The two differ in many ways. Health centers receive some of its funding from federal and other grants, government healthcare programs, and insurance payments. Free clinics are funded by private investments and donations. Health centers are staffed by employees hired with quality standards and experience, while free clinics are in most cases staffed by volunteers providing quality care. Health centers are strictly directed by a board with at least 51% community patient members. Free clinic boards vary and may not be majority-lead by community patients.

A Regular Doctor’s Office

Primary Care providers -- or general physicians -- are doctors or nurse practitioners that provide regular, general healthcare services. These include routine checkups, screening and testing of new diseases, and treatment of sickness like colds and stomach viruses.

A general physician performs many of the same functions that a health center does. However, it does not have a majority board of community patients and thus does not employ a patient-centered approach. It also does not accommodate patient needs as much. In most cases, it does not have a dental unit under its roof, provide transportation services, or provide a health care discount based on the federal poverty guidelines.

A Hospital

Hospitals do a bunch of different things: they provide emergency services, surgery, imaging and scanning through x-rays and MRIs, and other specialized care. Patients may go to a hospital to seek emergency attention or receive advanced care that a regular doctor’s office cannot. They might  get further testing done to determine a health issue, seek consultation from a specialist,

Unlike health centers, hospitals typically provide reactive treatment, rather than preventative treatment. They may provide transportation via an ambulance, but that ambulance costs a lot more money.

A Specialist Doctor’s Office

Different from general physicians, specialist doctors usually don't provide the first line of defense against health issues. After seeing a general physician, he or she might refer you to a specialist to take a deeper dive and receive their expert care. For instance, if you have skin issues, you may get referred to a dermatologist for treatment.

While health centers have both doctors and dentists, they generally do not have specialist doctors in-house. In this case, health centers will refer you to trusted specialists that can treat patients with their insurance coverage -- or lack thereof. Some Health Centers may provide specialty care like podiatry. In this case, they will provide the care under their roof.

The Purpose of Health Centers

There’s a lot of things a health center is, and a lot of things that a health center is not. It can get confusing, and difficult to remember all the details.

The main point is, community health centers are driven by patients, for patients. They accommodate patients’ unique needs and do their best to help them overcome obstacles to high-quality healthcare. Most importantly, they make healthcare affordable, accessible, and adequate.

Health centers are consumer-driven and patient-centered organizations that serve as a comprehensive and cost-effective primary health care option for America’s most underserved communities. Health centers serve everyone regardless of ability to pay or insurance status. They increase access to health care and provide integrated care services based on the unique needs of the communities they serve. Health centers deliver value to and have a significant impact on America’s healthcare system. Below are some stats about their impact. Health Centers:

  • Serve as the health care home for more than 28 million patients in over 11,000 communities across the country.
  • Reduce health care costs and produce savings. On average, health centers save 24% per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers.
  • Integrate critical medical and social services such as oral health, mental health, substance abuse, case management, and translation under one roof.
  • Employ over 220,000 people and generate at least $54.6 billion in total economic activity in some of the nation’s most distressed communities.
  • Provide care to 1.4 million homeless patients and more than 350,000 veterans.


If you have any questions about what a health center is and how it can help you or your family, reach out to us at 610-326-9460.