What is a Health Center?

Health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver comprehensive, culturally competent, high-quality primary health care services. Health centers also often integrate access to pharmacy, mental health, substance abuse, and oral health services in areas where economic, geographic, or cultural barriers limit access to affordable health care services. Health centers deliver care to the Nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families, including people experiencing homelessness, agricultural workers, residents of public housing, and the Nation’s veterans.  

Health Center Program fundamentals:  

  • Deliver high quality, culturally competent, comprehensive primary care, as well as supportive services such as health education, translation, and transportation that promote access to health care.
  • Provide services regardless of patients’ ability to pay and charge for services on a sliding fee scale.  
  • Operate under the direction of patient-majority governing boards of autonomous community-based organizations.  These include public and private non-profit organizations and tribal and faith-based organizations.
  • Develop systems of patient-centered and integrated care that respond to the unique needs of diverse medically underserved areas and populations.
  • Meet requirements regarding administrative, clinical, and financial operations.

How Health Centers Work

Health centers overcome geographic, cultural, linguistic, and other barriers to care by delivering coordinated and comprehensive primary and preventive services. This care reduces health disparities by emphasizing care management of patients with multiple health care needs and the use of key quality improvement practices, including health information technology.  

Most health centers receive Health Center Program federal grant funding to improve the health of underserved and vulnerable populations. Some health centers receive funding to focus on special populations including individuals and families experiencing homelessness, migratory and seasonal agricultural workers, and residents of public housing. The majority of health center operating funds come from Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, patient fees, and other resources.  Some health centers that meet all Health Center Program requirements do not receive Federal award funding. These are called Health Center Program look-alikes.

Health centers leverage a variety of other related programs. Health centers that receive federal grant funding may gain access to medical malpractice coverage under Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and some receive federal loan guarantees for capital improvements.

All health centers, including look-alikes, gain access to:

Learn about the Health Center Program’s impact and growth



Related

Health Center Program Fact Sheet (PDF - 1.5 MB)