PORTLAND – Community health centers are becoming the provider of choice for millions of people in the United States. Evidence shows that patients choose community health centers because they are convenient, affordable and offer a range of high-quality primary health services under one roof.

This is great news for Mainers, especially here in the Portland area. For those who have had difficulty finding a medical provider, the Portland Community Health Center is a new and excellent option. Unlike many private practices, the center — located at 180 Park Ave. — accepts Medicare and MaineCare, and it offers a sliding fee scale for those without insurance.

Governed by a community-based board of directors, the majority of whom are patients of the health center, the center believes that everyone deserves a family doctor. Health centers’ governing boards help ensure accountability to the community and funders.

(Including the Portland Community Health Center, Maine is home to 19 federally qualified community health centers, which operate more than 100 delivery sites throughout the state.)

The cost of primary health care at a community health center is affordable, and the quality is as good as any one finds in private practices — and studies prove it.

A July 2012 study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco concluded that community health centers perform as well as or better than private practices on a number of quality-care measures, despite serving patients with more chronic disease and lower incomes.

Community health centers help reduce income and ethnic health disparities nationwide, even in the poorest communities. Nationally, health centers save health systems $24 billion a year and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and visits to emergency rooms.

The Portland Community Health Center — formerly part of the city’s Public Health Division and now an independent nonprofit — provides primary and behavioral health care services to more than 3,100 patients, many of whom now have consistent health care for the first time in their lives.

In addition to providing quality care, the Portland Community Health Center provides a system of preventive medicine that patients use regularly, thereby improving health outcomes and reducing reliance on hospital emergency rooms.

Community health centers are a model that attracts those with commercial health insurance as well. The excellent care, coupled with a strong social mission, makes the Portland Community Health Center a provider of choice for many in the Portland area.

Community health centers also have laid the groundwork for health care reform. The Portland Community Health Center is one of the places designated to educate and help people enroll in the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. ACA enrollment begins Oct. 1. Outreach and enrollment specialists have been hired to help people understand and select insurance coverage in the new marketplace.

The Portland Community Health Center recently completed renovation, creating a warm and welcoming space and expanding access from nine exam rooms to 12.

Interdisciplinary team offices promote good communication among professional staff to ensure quality patient care. An integrated electronic health record system improves patient care and experience by providing real-time documentation, lab referrals, prescription orders and customized patient education hand-outs and follow-up instructions.

The Portland Community Health Center has been recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance as a patient-centered medical home. This model goes beyond primary medical care to treat the whole person, ensuring that care is efficient, timely and responsive to each individual’s need in making good health decisions for himself or herself.

Each August we recognize the contributions of and services delivered by America’s community health centers. This year’s theme is “Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Transforming Health Care in Our Local Communities” — and that is exactly what we do.

Kathleen Stokes is the president of the board of directors of the Portland Community Health Center.


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