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The backbone of primary care

(This commentary appeared in the Rutland Daily Herald on August 9, 2022.)

Perhaps you could say that I am an offspring of the primary care and community health center system that has provided quality health care for Rutland and Addison counties for decades. That’s why I am excited to celebrate 2022 National Health Center Week this week, Aug. 7-13.

As a child, I was a patient of what is now Community Health Castleton, a health center that has grown to include Express Care walk-in care, behavioral health and care management along with the primary care for people of all ages. Community Health Castleton is just one of the now seven Community Health practices that provide everything from dental and pediatric care to pharmacy, behavioral health and diabetes education.

As CEO of Community Health, I can clearly see the growing demand for primary care services while, at the same time, reflecting on the urgent crisis response that came from the Community Health clinical professionals during the pandemic. I’m proud to be leading an organization that is a role model at a time when providing affordable and accessible health care is a priority for our neighbors, our communities, our families and our country.

Michael Gardner, CEO Community Health

National Health Center Week is a time to join communities across the country in recognizing how Federally Qualified Health Centers like Community Health focus on supporting and delivering vital health care programs, preventative services and wellness activities that nurture healthy living and lifestyles.

Health centers provide preventive and primary care services to nearly 29 million people across the country, many of whom suffer from chronic disease and are challenged additionally by food, housing and transportation insecurity. While our approach is community-based and local, collectively we are the backbone of the nation’s primary care system. Community health centers lower health care costs to the tune of $24 billion a year, reduce rates of chronic diseases and work collaboratively with community organizations on awareness and preventive programs. In 2021, we provided 191,315 total patient visits to more than 45,000 individual patients. Community Health provides care to approximately 80% of Rutland County residents.

Congress must act immediately for community health centers to continue to serve as health care homes. Long-term and stable funding will ensure we can close the growing access gap for medically vulnerable communities. I am grateful that our congressional delegation, Rep. Peter Welch and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy have shown leadership in supporting federal legislation that will protect health centers from losing major funding.

Show your support during National Health Center Week for the dedicated and courageous health care professionals who are part of the Community Health network of services, providing top-quality health and wellness care for Vermonters and New York residents. We work as a family, a team of health care providers who live in your neighborhood, whose children attend local schools and who understand the obstacles faced by families to grow up healthy, age gracefully and be able to enjoy the wealth of natural beauty and agriculture right outside our front doors.

Mike Gardner, Community Health CEO, is a lifelong resident of Vermont and a patient since childhood at Castleton Family Health Center (now Community Health Castleton).

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