The pressure is on community clinics

Published on
July 10, 2012

The patients call it simply “the clinic.”  It’s where they go to get their kids’ shots for school.  It’s where they get check-ups and medication for their high blood pressure. It’s where they get advice on finding jobs or apartments.

Under healthcare reform, community clinics in Los Angeles and around the nation are expected to become one of the centerpieces of the newly revamped system. The federal government is banking on centers’ ability to provide primary and preventive care to patients and to keep them out of expensive specialty care and emergency rooms.

In some ways, the success of the healthcare reform law will depend on whether they can meet that challenge. With an influx of federal money, clinics are trying to respond to the challenge to lower costs, improve care and expand access. 

Community health centers started in the 1960s as part of the war on poverty. Today, they serve more than 20 million Americans by providing primary medical care, chronic disease management and preventive health services. Doctors and nurses working in the centers have a front-row seat to the biggest problems in public health and healthcare today.

As a health journalism fellow, I plan to write a series of stories linked by place and at times recurring personalities that show at ground-level the benefits or challenges of a tectonic change in health care policy. Each chapter will work the seams of tension between what has been, what’s supposed to be and what is.

The stories will focus on real people and real tales but will try to answer big questions:

Will services expand and options improve? Or will existing community health care services become more overloaded, inadequately funded and inaccessible? Can patient behavior be altered and costs controlled? Can clinics reduce avoidable and hugely expensive hospital admissions and visits to emergency rooms? 

I look forward to getting started!