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Community Health Centers Hold the Key to Advancing Health Equity

Community health centers and community health workers are helping tens of millions of Americans overcome barriers like income and insurance coverage to get the quality care they need in their communities. 
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When health needs arise, they don’t ask if you can afford them. Asthma doesn’t check your insurance card. Heart disease doesn’t run your credit. As a result, those unable to find accessible care they can afford often see their health outcomes and quality of life suffer. 

For tens of millions of Americans, community health centers serve as a vital lifeline in these moments, helping them overcome barriers like these and get the quality care they need in their communities, regardless of income or insurance coverage. 

At Johnson & Johnson, we believe everyone, everywhere should be able to access quality health services. During National Health Center Week, we are raising awareness of the indispensable role community health centers and community health workers play in our national health system and spotlighting how we’re partnering to support and strengthen their work. 

A critical tool to achieve health equity

Born out of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, the community health center movement has grown from a handful of clinics in Mississippi and Massachusetts to a nationwide network of more than 14,000 service delivery sites, providing quality care, preventive services and health education to more than 30 million people in 2021 alone.

At the center of their work is the understanding that health needs don’t begin or end at the clinic door. Community health centers reach beyond the exam room walls to prevent illness and address the factors that impact their patients’ health, such as diet, nutrition, mental health or homelessness. They do this by embracing an integrated model that includes both traditional primary care providers and the health workers who are reflective of and have deep connections to the communities they serve, understanding their needs, norms, languages and cultures.

For more than 50 years, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) has collaborated with affiliates and partners to advance community health centers as the foundation of an equitable healthcare system built on accessible, patient-governed, high-quality, integrated primary care.

“Increasing equity and reducing health disparities are not aspirations, but rather, are daily practices at community health centers. They are innovators, healers and problem-solvers who are anchored in communities and, as part of their unique model, are run by local governing boards with patient-majority representation," said Ben Money, NACHC Senior Vice President, Population Health. “Patient voices are essential to understanding the social drivers of health and ensuring equity in the delivery of care.”

Today, these nonprofit, patient-governed organizations serve as a go-to healthcare source for communities of color, rural and low-income communities and other historically underserved groups, reducing barriers such as cost, lack of insurance, distance and language. The scale of their impact shows their success as a force for health equity.

Partnering to strengthen community health centers

With more than 125 years of experience supporting health workers and quality care worldwide, and over two decades supporting community health centers, Johnson & Johnson is uniquely positioned to help strengthen community-based organizations and its health workers. Since 2021, Johnson & Johnson worked with NACHC to support these vital institutions across the U.S. to ensure residents have culturally competent medical care that is accessible, timely, affordable and located where they live.

Together, we are building the capacity and infrastructure of community health centers and supporting them in recruiting, developing and retaining health workers. In particular, our partnership is working to ensure that the health workforce is reflective of and connected to the communities they serve. When our health workers are empathetic to, trusted by and fluent in the languages of their patients, they can offer effective, whole-person care.

Efforts supported by this collaboration include:

  • Awarding grants to 19 community health centers, a state primary care association and a health center controlled network over the course of three years.
  • Providing DEI trainings for staff to support the provision of more equitable care.
  • Developing strategies to improve the recruitment and retention of primary care and community health workers.

Johnson & Johnson’s support of community health centers and health workers aligns with our broader health equity efforts through Our Race to Health Equity, our five-year, $100 million commitment to help eradicate health disparities among our communities of color.

“When health systems and communities work together, both are stronger and more equitable,” says Our Race to Health Equity Global Leader Frank Rodriguez. “Our work with NACHC to support community health centers and health workers is crucial to realizing that vision, closing persistent gaps and creating a healthier future for all.”