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Health Center Program: Impact and Growth

Over the last 57 years, health centers have grown to become the cornerstone of community-based primary health care in the United States. By integrating medical, dental, behavioral, and other health care services, health centers provide patients the right care, at the right time, in the right place. 

Advancing Health Equity for Millions

HRSA funds nearly 1,400 health centers and approximately 100 Health Center Program look-alike organizations, collectively operating more than 14,000 service delivery sites in communities across the country. In 2021, health centers achieved a historic milestone of serving more than 30 million people. Health centers deliver primary health care to the nation’s underserved individuals and families, including one in three people living in poverty and one in five rural residents. 

Addressing Emergent Public Health Needs

Our nation’s health centers have always answered the call to action in times of great need. Health centers excel at reaching into their communities to quickly adapt and leverage existing networks, relationships, and knowledge to respond to crises in effective and innovative ways. 

Health centers played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic. For over two years now, health centers have led the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments.

Health centers are often the first line of care in combatting the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis. In 2021, 55% of health centers provided substance use disorder services to nearly 286,000 patients. Health centers also provided medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to more than 184,000 patients nationwide. 

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the growing mental health crisis in United States, and health centers have risen to the task. Nearly all health centers (98%) provide mental health services. Of the more than 15 million mental health visits, 54% of were provided virtually, a 12% increase in virtual visits from 2020. 

HRSA-funded health centers are also an essential component of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, serving a leading role in helping to diagnose, treat, prevent, and respond to HIV to end the epidemic. In 2021, health centers had 2.7 million visits for HIV tests, a 34% increase since 2020.
 

Driving Quality Improvement

HRSA’s quality improvement investments advance a model of coordinated, comprehensive, and patient-centered care, integrating medical, dental, behavioral health, substance use disorder, and patient services.

These investments have positioned 1,058 health centers (77%) to achieve Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) recognition. The PCMH model of care enables health centers to have strong patient outcomes at lower costs despite treating a sicker and poorer population in comparison with other health care settings.

Despite the significant challenges COVID-19 has placed on health center staff and operations, health centers have remained committed to providing high-quality, essential primary health care services to the nation’s underserved and vulnerable populations. In fact, 79% of health centers met or exceeded one or more national clinical benchmarks in 2020, with more than half (55%) reporting improvements in 5 or more clinical quality measures (CQMs), and 1 in 6 health centers nationwide (16%) reporting improvements in 8 or more CQMs.

Besides better patient outcomes, the health center model of care decreases the use of costly care choices, such as visits to emergency departments and hospitals.1 Health center patients also had 24% lower spending compared to non-health center patients across all services provided.2


1 Laiteerapong, Neda et al. “Health Care Utilization and Receipt of Preventive Care for Patients Seen at Federally Funded Health Centers Compared to Other Sites of Primary Care.” Health Services Research 49.5 (2014): 1498-1518.

2 Nocon, Robert S. et al. “Health Care Use and Spending for Medicaid Enrollees in Federally Qualified Health Centers Versus Other Primary Care Settings.” American Journal of Public Health 106.11 (Nov 2016): 1981-1989.

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