Community health centers big part of improving Oklahoma's health
New rankings published by the United Health Foundation show our state has slipped two spots to 48th in the country for the overall health of our citizens. The worst news from this report comes as no surprise to people involved in health care. We are 49th in the availability of primary care physicians to treat our basic health needs.
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Many of us likely take it for granted that we have a primary care doctor, but hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma adults — and children — don't have direct access to primary care providers. Lack of access to primary and preventive care results in many problems: unmanaged chronic illnesses, development of preventable conditions and overuse of hospital emergency rooms by people with nonemergent issues.
During my time as governor, I became familiar with an extraordinary public-private model of comprehensive primary medical care. Oklahoma City-based Variety Care epitomizes the gold standard community health center (CHC) model. Variety Care offers medical, dental and behavioral care (among other services) to patients with or without insurance. It also offers open access for Medicaid and Medicare and provides affordable quality care to the uninsured and working poor. This health care model leverages private financial donations and federal grant dollars to make primary care available to Oklahoma's most vulnerable or underserved populations.
Since leaving the governor's office, I've become personally involved with Variety Care, which is Oklahoma's largest community health center. It exemplifies the benefits of this primary care model by increasing access, reducing costs and improving patient outcomes. Variety Care serves more than 50,000 Oklahomans each year and has multiple locations across Oklahoma County and southwestern Oklahoma. Variety Care's capital campaign is working to increase patient capacity by expanding clinic space at its largest health centers.