Last week, a delegation from BVHC traveled to Washington, D.C. for the annual convening of the National Association of Community Health Centers Policy and Issues Forum. Led by our Board President, Sara Pretty Weasel, our group included Shelly Sutherland, Kara Francis, Earl Sutherland and me. A focal point of the event was our meetings with our congressional delegation, Senators Daines and Tester. Our agenda for these discussions included three requests of our Senators: (1) to continue their longstanding support for enduring Health Center program funding, (2) to preserve the Medicaid program, which has provided invaluable support to over 70,000 newly-enrolled Montanans, and (3) to improve the workforce development pipeline by supporting funding for the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Center program. Our visits were engaging and productive, as both of our Senators are ardent supporters of the community health center movement, recognizing the unmatched value the program brings to individuals and communities across the nation. At the conference meetings, we received policy and program updates from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, who outlined ongoing modifications and improvements to the quality data collection process, regulatory compliance methods and the like.
The keynote speakers for the event—Senator Tom Daschle and former Utah governor, Mike Leavitt—were eloquent in their charge to the conference attendees. Health centers, they emphasized, are at the forefront of envisioning the American healthcare system of the future. Innovations born from within our ranks are driving the important and long-overdue shift from volume-based to value-based care delivery. And we need to keep on leading the way. They encouraged health centers to “become more muscular,” by growing in size and sophistication; to “be at the table” with the state agencies and insurers who will formulate systems of reimbursement for care; and to recognize that while we have always been the safety net care providers for vulnerable members of our communities, health centers increasingly need to play the role of being the foundation of the primary healthcare system in the nation. Important themes that were repeatedly emphasized at the meetings included a focus on the social determinants of health, working with telemedicine to extend care to remote areas, and integrating primary care, oral health, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment in an effort to respond to the ongoing opioid epidemic in our nation. Any of these things sound familiar?
In all, the event provided robust validation of what we’re up to here in our corner of the world. In the face of a national healthcare system that seems to be changing every day, our role is to keep charging forward, developing new models of care delivery that respond to the needs of our communities, placing the patient at the center of all that we do, and teaching the rest of the country how to do the same.
David Mark, MD, CEO
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