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Saluting Community Health Centers: Vital Partners in Fighting HIV and Hepatitis

Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri

This week we join public health and health care colleagues across the U.S. in saluting the 50th anniversary of the nation’s network of community health centers during National Health Center Week

First established in 1965 as a pilot project during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, today there are over 1,300 health centers supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). These centers serve nearly 23 million medically underserved individuals across the nation – that’s one in 14 Americans.

Leaders of HRSA’s health centers program have been important partners in developing, implementing, and monitoring both the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, working to ensure that the preventive and primary care services offered by health centers are aligned to support the health goals of these national plans.  

HRSA-Logo - Community Health CenterHealth Centers and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020 [PDF 2,230 MB] observes that “Increased funding to HRSA’s Health Center Program also expands the opportunities for integrating HIV testing, prevention, care, and treatment services into primary care.” The updated Strategy calls on Federal agencies and health care delivery systems to support the integration of high-quality HIV services into health centers and other primary care settings by providing routine HIV screening, basic HIV care and treatment, referrals for more complex HIV care and treatment, and coordination of care across settings and providers.

A current example of this integration is Partnerships for Care (P4C): Health Departments and Health Centers Collaborating to Improve HIV Health Outcomes Exit Disclaimer, a 3-year cross-HHS demonstration project funded through the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund and and the Affordable Care Act. The goals of the project are to build sustainable partnerships among CDC-funded state health departments and HRSA-funded health centers to support expanded HIV service delivery in communities highly affected by HIV, especially among racial/ethnic minorities. The state health departments in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York are collaborating with a total of 22 health centers to increase the identification of undiagnosed HIV infection, establish new access points for HIV care and treatment, and improve HIV outcomes along the continuum of care for people living with HIV. At the conclusion of this project, best practices and other lessons learned will be shared widely among both health departments and health centers. Read more about the P4C Exit Disclaimer

Health Centers and the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan

Similarly, health centers are working to expand opportunities for viral hepatitis screening, hepatitis A and B vaccination, and improving linkage to care and treatment among individuals who are diagnosed.

HRSA’s Acting Associate Administrator for Primary Health Care, Ms. Tonya Bowers, recently shared in a blog post that in 2013 HRSA-supported health centers reported they had screened 317,647 patients for hepatitis B and provided services to 23,759 patients diagnosed with hepatitis B.  That same year, 296,349 patients were screened for hepatitis C and 145,309 patients were diagnosed with hepatitis C. To support further expansion of these efforts, HRSA recently launched a viral hepatitis resource page for health centers, Hepatitis: Action Steps and Guidelines for Health Centers.

As HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell observed in her recent blog post, “At HHS, we’re committed to building a health care system that delivers better care, spends our health care dollars more wisely, and puts empowered and engaged patients in the center of their care to keep them healthy. For 50 years, health centers have led the way with high-quality care for millions of Americans.”

Please join us in saluting the nation’s community health centers for their significant contributions to our nation’s health, including their support for efforts to improve health outcomes related to HIV and viral hepatitis. We are grateful for their contributions to underserved populations and look forward to continued collaboration with them as they continue to expand HIV and viral hepatitis prevention, care, and treatment services.