Celebrating National Health Center Week

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107,817. That’s the number of patients who visited one of Montana’s Community Health Centers last year. One out of every 10 Montanans received their comprehensive primary care through this health center network that has delivered care to rural and under-served communities for over 50 years.

Next week is National Health Center Week. It’s a week dedicated to honoring and recognizing the value a Community Health Center brings to its community and understand why they are now at center stage in a changing health care landscape.

In Libby and Troy, Northwest Community Health Center (NWCHC) delivers much-needed care to more than 7,503 patients a year who visit us over 29,000 times during the year. We provide primary medical care, dental care, integrated behavioral health care and substance use treatment. Seventy-one percent of our patients are working families who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. As an employer and healthcare provider in Libby and Troy, NWCHC supports 98 jobs and impacts the two towns’ economies by over $11.4 million a year.

As a part of a nationwide network that is the family doctor to millions of Americans, NWCHC’s mission is to provide affordable options for comprehensive, “whole person” primary care. Our model of care works by treating the whole patient 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 NWCHC, 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. 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.

Health centers such as NWCHC are on the front lines dealing with complex problems no one wants to think about, including the devastating opioid crisis and the growing problem of obesity in economically challenged neighborhoods — health conditions that, if left unchecked, 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.

The theme of this year’s National Health Center Week is “Celebrating Health Centers: Home of America’s Health Care Heroes,” but none of us who work at health centers consider ourselves heroes. Rather, we are people of the community who believe that affordable health care should always be within reach for everyone who needs it.

During the week we invite you to learn more about health centers by visiting a Northwest Community Health Center location in Libby or Troy and learning about the range of services and programs we offer. Talk with our clinicians and staff and find out why health centers are a good prescription for our nation’s health.

Maria Clemons is CEO of Northwest Montana Community Health Center in Libby.

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