Guest opinion from Mindy Bendetti, CEO of Health West.
This month, Idahoans across the state have joined communities in celebrating our state’s non-profit health centers. In recognition of the value health centers bring to our local communities, Gov. Brad Little declared August as “Health Center Month in Idaho.”
Idaho health centers provide preventive and primary care services to 198,000 people — or 1 in 9 Idahoans. Health centers provide care to people who disproportionately suffer from chronic disease and lack access to affordable, quality care. While our approach is community-based and local, collectively we generate a statewide ripple effect. Health centers in Idaho help lower health care costs, reduce chronic diseases, and stimulate local economies.
Recent reports underscore that community health centers are having a growing impact, not only on the vital contributions to personal and community health, but to the economic health of the communities they serve. Nationally, health centers save American tax payers $24 billion a year in health care costs by preventing and managing chronic diseases.
According to the 2018 Capital Link Health Center Impact Report, Health West Inc, Southeast Idaho’s local health center, is saving our overall health system $23 million and Medicaid over $6 million annually. The reports indicated that Health West accounted for over $30 million in local economic output in 2018. Health West employs over 150 employees, over 50 contracted employees, and its operational needs contribute to over 100 additional jobs in our community.
As our state prepares to increase access to health care for hard-working Idahoans through Medicaid expansion, Health West Inc is ready to provide integrated medical, dental, and mental health care, along with pharmacy services. Health centers are not just healers. We are innovators who look beyond medical charts to address the factors that may cause poor health, such as poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition, and unemployment. Health centers collaborate and partner with health care providers, local and state governments, social, and business organizations to improve health for people who are medically vulnerable.
The health centers’ mission is crucial today because access to basic care remains a challenge in parts of Idaho. Many people live in remote and underserved communities where there is a shortage of providers and, in many cases, the nearest doctor or hospital can be as far as a 50-mile drive to another county.
Secure long-term funding for the program will ensure we close the access gap for medically vulnerable communities. Accomplishing this task depends on Congress.
I am grateful for the past support the Idaho delegation has shown for community health centers. Sens. Mike Crapo, Jim Risch, and Congressman Mike Simpson have long-supported funding for health centers.
At Health West, we are grateful to our communities for their continued support and encourage continued support for Health Center Month in Idaho by visiting your local community health center. We look forward to and appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve Southeast Idaho.