By Mitesh Popat, Mark Shotwell and Steven Siegel
Marin’s community health centers are marking National Health Center Week 2018, a national campaign this week to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers and the dedicated staff who bring comprehensive, high-quality health care to our neighbors who would otherwise be medically underserved.
Coastal Health Alliance, Marin Community Clinics and Ritter Center provide essential health care services to approximately 40,000 Marin residents. Even in today’s often-divisive political climate, Congress, with strong bipartisan support, continues to invest in health centers, recognizing that a strong community-based system of care where people have easy access to preventive care saves lives and reduces health care costs.
Health centers like ours in Marin County are part of a nationwide network that cares for more than 27 million Americans. We are proven innovators and problem-solvers in treating chronic disease, looking not only to prevent illness but also to address the many factors that can contribute to poor health such as poverty, homelessness, substance use disorders, lack of nutrition, unemployment or employment that does not provide a wage to meet the high cost of living in Marin County.
Health centers are on the front lines dealing with complex problems, including the devastating opioid crisis and the growing problem of obesity — health conditions that, if left unchecked, end up in hospital emergency rooms for costly treatment. Nationwide, health centers save the U.S. health care system $24 billion a year by managing health conditions and reducing unnecessary hospital visits.
Here in Marin we are addressing the widespread opioid addiction epidemic, with a key goal of reducing the usage of these powerful drugs which have been widely employed nationwide to address pain but are highly addictive.
As a result of efforts undertaken by our community health centers and Rx Safe Marin, since 2013 there has been a 41 percent decline in average narcotics prescription doses among Marin’s Medi-Cal population, many of whom are our patients. While seeking to reduce opioid usage, we understand the need for pain management and work with patients to find non-addictive treatments and alternative modalities that will provide them with the relief that they need.
Our models of care treat 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 health centers the goal is to provide everyone with easy access to care no matter who they are, where they are from, or if they have health insurance. Our focus is on providing “patient centered care,” which means going beyond asking, “What is the matter with you?” to learning “What matters to you?”
By including the patient in health care decisions and choices, the clinicians and staff at our health center build trusting, long-lasting relationships that lead to better health and improved well-being.
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. We are members of the community who believe that affordable health care should be within reach for everyone who needs it, and we invite you to learn more about the range of services and programs we offer. Our community health centers are the source of access, quality care and efficiency, meeting the health care needs for thousands of Marin’s children, teens, and adults.
We invite you to learn more about National Health Center Week at healthcenterweek.org.
Dr. Mitesh Popat is chief executive officer, Marin Community Clinics; Mark Shotwell is interim executive director of the Ritter Center in San Rafael; and Steven Siegel is chief executive officer of the Coastal Health Alliance in Point Reyes Station.