National Health Center Week: Recognizing community health centers that help millions of Americans every year

(BPT) - It’s National Health Center Week - a time to reflect on the commitment of health centers across the country to provide access to affordable, high quality, cost-effective services, including those that help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The services they offer are critically important for more than half of all Americans who suffer from one or more chronic diseases. Every year chronic diseases continue to be the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. A survey recently released could explain why.

The “CVS Caremark Chronic Disease Awareness Survey” reveals the public’s misconception and understanding of chronic diseases, with the majority of respondents admitting that they are not doing as much as they could to stay healthy.

For instance, nearly 40 percent of people think that what they eat has little to do with whether they get a chronic disease. And nearly 65 percent of people are aware they should exercise regularly, but do not. The increased consumption of unhealthy foods, compounded by the effects of physical inactivity, increases the risk of many severe and chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and liver and gallbladder disease.

So what can be done to prevent chronic diseases?

The first steps toward preventing and treating chronic diseases are education and management. The national network of Community Health Centers plays a critical role in improving the quality of life for people with chronic diseases. As local, community-based health care systems in rural and urban neighborhoods, health centers are able to provide direct health services that are both affordable and accessible. Today, more than 9,000 health center sites throughout the country are providing care for more than 22 million Americans by increasing access to affordable health care services. The goal of these Community Health Centers is to treat people with quality primary care services before they are sick with a costly illness.

While changes in our health care system will qualify millions of more people for health coverage, it's still a challenge for many to find quality care that could help manage – even prevent – many chronic diseases.

To increase access to health care and help prevent chronic diseases, the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust, a private foundation created by CVS Caremark Corporation recently partnered with the National Association of Community Health Centers to develop the “Innovations in Community Health” grant program, a $3 million, three-year initiative aimed at helping community health centers increase access to quality health care and directly support underserved patients who are managing chronic diseases.

“Through our partnership with NACHC, we are providing much-needed funding to support affordable community-based health care models that are producing innovative programming in the area of chronic disease management,” says Eileen Howard Boone, President, CVS Caremark Charitable Trust. “The programs will use a variety of methods to help people manage their chronic disease and improve health outcomes – including the use of tele-medicine, nurse practitioners to monitor at-risk patients and wellness circles that bring people together who are living with and working to manage the same chronic disease.”

Through affordable health care services, health centers provide solutions, and without them, chronic diseases will continue to affect the lives of millions of people nationwide and cost our health care system trillions of dollars every year. Fortunately, health centers generate $24 billion in savings to the U.S. health care system each year by treating chronic disease and reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and ER use. With help from partners like the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust, health centers will continue to expand their reach to more communities and create better health outcomes.