Imagine you arrive in a new country and have a medical need, but you don’t speak the local language and don’t know how or where to find care. In recent weeks, thousands of migrants to the United States have found themselves in precisely that situation, after being transported from the southern border to communities across the country.
At VNA Health Care, one of the largest community health centers in the country with 16 locations across the Chicago suburbs, we were recently asked to provide care for migrants who arrived in our area. In coordination with the state, the local health department and other stakeholders, our team delivered the most urgently needed care at the hotel where the migrants were staying using our mobile medical van and provided follow-up services at our clinics, with transportation supplied by the local YMCA. This type of grassroots work and collaboration is fundamental to the way CHCs work.
Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, CHCs, also known as federally qualified health centers, have a central mission to improve access to care and decrease health disparities. Our efforts are always more impactful when we work across the healthcare continuum and engage the entire community. As evidenced by our recent experience treating the new migrants, CHCs, hospitals, health systems, other healthcare entities, community-based organizations and community leaders have extensive experience working together. However, even more collaboration will be needed in order to meet the future needs of an increasingly diverse and aging society.
Healthcare leaders know the most effective approach to care builds on a foundation of best practices and addresses cultural needs and preferences. In some communities, CHCs and health systems have developed clinical protocols across care settings to take into account customs and lifestyles of the diverse populations they serve. Measuring health disparities baseline information as well as the impact of our initiatives is essential as we strive to address the factors that influence health.
Healthcare organizations have a tremendous opportunity to work together to identify individuals with needs related to the social determinants of health, which might otherwise be missed—and then to address those needs. Identifying homeless individuals and developing plans of care with the patient, hospitals and primary care providers is one such example. In the future, more work at the community level will be critical. CHCs, other health organizations and local municipality and community leaders in some regions have teamed up to determine and address the root causes of homelessness. These creative, cooperative initiatives have great potential for improving the health for individuals and the community as a whole. Tools such as the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, will help inform future team efforts.