Clinics provide affordable local health care | READER COMMENTARY
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 27, 2021 at 5:05 PM
The Baltimore Sun’s recent article, “Clinics are ‘nation’s health care safety net’” (Jan. 14), is both the story of affordable health care for the residents of Detroit, Michigan, and the story of affordable health care for the residents of Maryland.
From Garrett County in Western Maryland and across the state to the three lower counties of the Eastern Shore, Maryland’s 17 federally qualified community health centers provide a comprehensive array of primary care services to over 342,565 patients at more than 60 health center locations.
Primary care services include pediatric and adult services, prenatal and women’s health services, mental health and substance use services, treatment for HIV/AIDS, dental services, and pharmacy services. Our community health centers provide care to children and adults covered by Medicaid, Medicare, other insurance or on a sliding fee basis regardless of their income.
Maryland’s community health centers, however, go far beyond the medical and dental services they offer. The majority (68%) of patients are at or below the federal poverty level of $12,760. They come to us with critical needs such as housing, food, translation services and transportation. Our staff assists with these needs as well as many other challenges our patients face with managing their health and navigating a complex and often fragmented health care system.
However, the real story about Maryland’s community health centers is the resiliency they have demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our centers remained open throughout the pandemic. The health centers quickly adapted the CDC guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment, social distancing and disinfection and our staff stepped up to ensure that we were open and able to care for our patients safely.
When “stay at home” orders were instituted, we quickly implemented systems to provide health care via telehealth to patients who could not come to the center for an in-person visit. Many of the health centers became COVID-19 test sites and are doing contract tracing. And now the health centers are working with the Maryland and local health departments to ensure our patients are vaccinated as quickly as vaccine supplies are available.
Many of Maryland’s community health centers have been serving their local communities for over 40 years and are an important community resource, especially in the rural Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, as well as other parts of the state where access to health care is limited.
And, as we have demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic or other emergency situations, we will continue to meet whatever challenges are presented and be there for all those to come to us seeking care. That is our mission, that is our legacy!
Salliann Alborn and Sara Rich, Glen Burnie
The writers are, respectively, CEO and president of Maryland Community Health System.