By Maria Gomez, President and CEO
From a young age, I learned never to take my health for granted. A healthy life should be a human right, but for so many of us, health care is too expensive, too complex, too limited.
In the rushed health care environment that is so common these days, community health centers (CHCs) are a precious exception. Known as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), the 1,400+ CHCs across the country are an oasis where stellar providers truly care about their patients’ overall well-being.
CHCs constantly take the pulse of their communities – checking heartbeats, but also listening to the voices that come through the door and assessing the environments where their patients live, work and play.
Over my three decades with Mary’s Center, I have had the privilege to witness what makes CHCs so special and so essential to the development of strong communities:
1. We look beyond physical health.
At Mary’s Center, we have a plethora of services that engage the community in their overall health, from medical, dental, and mental health, to housing, to a 2-generation education program. We connect our participants to services within the walls of Mary’s Center and in natural settings, such as schools, to make sure the community receives the appropriate and timely care to enrich their lives.
2. We are in the heart of the community.
To be successful, CHCs must be rooted in the communities they serve. This helps us connect with our participants and keep up with the local issues and advocacy efforts that affect them. Mary’s Center has always stayed alongside our participants as changing environments have forced them from their homes, pricing them out of neighborhoods they called “home” for decades.
3. We offer the highest quality of care.
Many people don’t realize that CHCs are held to incredibly high standards by the federal government. Everyone who walks through our doors receives the same caliber of care, and Mary’s Center staff are passionate about helping all their patients achieve optimal health outcomes. I invite our community members to support CHCs not only as donors and volunteers, but also as participants so you can experience firsthand this excellent care. It’s as simple as making your first appointment.
4. We bring jobs to our neighbors.
CHCs are a tremendous employment hub for the communities where they are situated. Most of our employees grew up in and live in the same neighborhoods we serve. We have patients who received prenatal care with us 20+ years ago, and now their children are on our staff, forever part of the fabric of Mary’s Center. I encourage anyone in the DC area to look at our job opportunities and join us to further your career goals.
5. We respond in a crisis.
CHCs are an essential community resource every day, and especially in moments of adversity. Since COVID-19 hit the DC area, Mary’s Center has provided necessary health services, testing, vaccination, and mental health care that was so desperately needed. But we knew health was not the only danger of the pandemic. Through partnerships, we also distributed direct financial assistance, addressed food and housing insecurity, and ensured connectivity for children learning virtually.
CHCs are the future of healthy communities, but we can’t do it alone.
It truly takes a village to sustain CHCs so we can continue our important work. In honor of National Health Center Week this week, we thank the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the incredible support and resources they make available. Our HRSA grant makes up less than 5% of our total budget, but every federal dollar we bring is amplified because it allows us to engage state and local government, philanthropy, and individual donors.
We also rely on advocacy organizations, like the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), that work tirelessly to keep CHCs thriving all across the country. With the support of NACHC and so many other national and local partners, Mary’s Center has been able to meet every challenge we’ve faced and continue growing.
Lastly, we are forever indebted to the federal and state governments, philanthropists, foundations, and enormous community of individuals who stepped up so generously over the last 33 years and especially during pandemic. You are relentless in your endeavor to keep Mary’s Center and all other CHCs strong, and we are extremely grateful and appreciate you, tremendously.
The beautiful chemistry of all these entities – government, advocacy organizations, foundations, and donors – creates a collective power that sustains Mary’s Center and other CHCs around the country. With their continued support, we will realize our vision for healthy, vibrant communities everywhere.
Learn how you can get involved with Mary’s Center here.