The Community Behind Community Health
Community Health Centers
America’s Health Centers owe their existence to a remarkable turn of events in U.S. history, and to a number of determined community health and civil rights activists who fought more than 50 years ago to improve the lives of Americans living in deep poverty and in desperate need of health care.
Among those determined to change these conditions was H. Jack Geiger, then a young doctor and civil rights activist who, while studying in South Africa, witnessed how a unique community-based health care model had brought about astonishing health improvements for the poorest citizens of that country.
Moving on the opportunity presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s major War on Poverty initiatives in the early 1960s, Dr. Geiger and other health care pioneers submitted proposals to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity to establish health centers in medically underserved inner city and rural areas of the country based on the same health care model Geiger had studied in South Africa. Funding for the first two “Neighborhood Health Centers” (as they were then called) – one in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in Mound Bayou, Mississippi – was approved in 1965, and the Community Health Centers Program was launched.
The health center model that emerged targeted the roots of poverty by combining the resources of local communities with federal funds to establish neighborhood clinics in both rural and urban areas around America. It was a formula that not only empowered communities to establish and direct health services at the local level via consumer-majority governing boards, but also generated compelling proof that affordable and accessible health care produced compounding benefits.
Community Health Centers serve as the primary medical home for over 25 million people in 9,800 rural and urban communities across America. These community-based “family doctors” enjoy longstanding bipartisan support by Administrations and policymakers at all levels, as well as in both the private and public sectors.
To learn more about community health centers across the country check out the NACHC website.