History and Mission
The mission of the Washington Association of Community & Migrant Health Centers (WACMHC) is to promote health and human services for the underserved people of Washington, primarily through its membership, ensuring that all Washingtonians have access to primary health care, regardless of geographic location, nationality, income level or insurance status.
History of the Association
The Washington Association of Community & Migrant Health Centers (WACMHC) is a non-profit organization, formed in 1985, to advocate on behalf of the low-income, uninsured, and underserved populations of Washington State served by community health centers. These health centers serve low income and other persons with limited access to health care.
WACMHC is one of 51 State or Regional Primary Care Associations (PCAs) whose members are comprised of the over 5,000 community health centers located throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
The Association is owned by its regular membership consisting of community health centers, migrant health centers, and Urban Indian Health Programs. The 25 member health centers operate more than 150 clinic sites across the state, in both rural and urban areas.
Founded by community health centers in Washington State, Community Health Network of Washington (CHNW) is a community health center based delivery network whose mission is to improve the health status of our communities through the provision of high-quality, affordable, community-based health care to underserved individuals and families, and through sustaining the network of community health centers and affiliated businesses. CHNW manages the health care of 225,000 of these people through Community Health Plan in the Medicaid, Basic Health and PEBB programs. CHNW also provides shared services and information technology solutions; and serves as a collection and dissemination point for best practices. CHNW and WACMHC work together to staff the Joint Legislative Committee with a Joint Public Policy Team.
Community and Migrant Health Centers
In 1965, the first community health centers were established to improve health status by providing access to medical care for the poor and other disenfranchised populations. Today, community health centers, including migrant and homeless health centers, are located in every state of the United States, and most territories. They are non-profit, private corporations which, in addition to providing comprehensive primary care services, also serve as vehicles for community development and economic growth.
Community health centers have four core requirements and must:
- Reach medically underserved communities;
- Govern with community involvement as non-profits;
- Treat patients regardless of ability to pay; and
- Provide a comprehensive scope of services.
Community health centers are an integral part of the communities they serve. Governed by a Board of Directors comprised of at least 51% of actual users, the health centers provide a foundation of community support and responsiveness which ensures user needs are met. All community health centers charge patients according to a sliding fee scale based on income and no one is ever denied services because of an inability to pay. The health center organizations are supported in this effort by a variety of funding sources including federal, state, local, and private grants.
The Care Provided by Community Health Centers
In Washington State, the health community centers provide comprehensive primary health care services in both urban and rural settings. These services include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology. Most have their own laboratories and x-ray facilities, and some operate their own pharmacies. Dental services including preventative, treatment, and restorative care are also provided by most of the health centers. In addition, the health centers provide or contract out for WIC and nutrition, translation, transportation and social work services.
Some of the health centers also provide mental health and substance abuse counseling. Community health centers also emphasize health promotion and preventative services. Health education and community outreach programs are integral components of the health care provided. Immunizations, dental screenings, diabetes education and AIDS education are just a few of the programs initiated by health centers.
The People Served by Community Health Centers
Community health centers care for many different groups of people, including pregnant women and children, the working poor, migrant and seasonal farm workers, people with low fixed incomes such as the elderly and those receiving public assistance, refugees, the homeless, persons with HIV/AIDS, and persons who are geographically or culturally isolated from services.
The patient population is comprised of many cultures and ethnic groups with diverse customs and beliefs and speaking a variety of languages. Community health centers respond to these needs by employing bilingual, bi-cultural health professionals and support staff, including trained medical interpreters. Health centers also incorporate alternative medicine into treatment plans as a means of providing care which is culturally appropriate.
Breaking Down Barriers
Providing primary care services in a community or migrant health center means addressing the needs of the whole patient by eliminating obstacles to health care. Staff of community health centers provide assistance to patients who are experiencing problems with housing, child care, transportation, or other hardships. Financial barriers are overcome by assessing each patient’s financial status, assuring that the sliding fee scale does not deter them from receiving the care they need. During a visit to a community health center, staff assesses eligibility for public assistance and provides help with the application process for insurance or medical assistance.