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Achieving high levels of health and well-being for all is within the United States’ grasp. As conversations about Medicaid funding shortfalls persist, it is important to consider the program’s inception.

In the 1960s, the public pressured; the government responded. In order to achieve equitable health outcomes, we understood the need to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. With this in mind, funding for community health centers, such as Partnership Health Center (PHC), began at the same time as Medicare and Medicaid.

PHC has promoted well-being through comprehensive, patient-focused, equitable care for decades. To recognize National Health Center Week, we are sharing the often-hidden impacts of social determinates on health in our community. Providing access to excellent, whole-person health care saves $24 billion (National Association of Community Health Centers) in annual health system costs and PHC alone, through cutting-edge innovations, has saved Montana over $500,000.

PHC began as a community response filling the need for affordable primary care in Missoula County in 1989. Fast-forward 30 years, PHC now serves 15,000 individuals, attracting those who have many options and those who have few. Our commitment to healthy people and strong communities fully embraces issues of justice. As unequal outcomes in health persist, PHC expands sites that offer high-quality, comprehensive access to medical, dental and behavioral health services.

Simultaneously, PHC is devoted to an “upstream” approach. This means that while PHC delivers comprehensive services to individuals and families, we also work to effect changes at the policy level that will improve health and well-being. Too often health care is limited to responding to health problems of individual patients rather than working to mitigate structural conditions such as poverty, environmental issues and work-related conditions caused by regressive public policy.

Health starts where we live, learn, work and play. This opportunity begins in our families, neighborhoods, schools and jobs — in our community. By providing care for mothers during pregnancy and following both mom and baby into later years, PHC supports the health of the family and connects families to the resources they desire to foster lifelong well-being. Moving upstream creates a cascade effect in the lives of those served and the entire community.

Health care not only benefits growing families but provides financial savings. Benefits are seen in the areas of less stress, fewer hospital days, higher rates of employment and decreased risk for incarceration; all of which benefit our community while saving tax dollars.

PHC provides outstanding health care and removes health barriers. We do this by offering easy access to care and by partnering with organizations that promote jobs paying a housing wage, early childhood education, affordable housing, fresh food, educational opportunities and meaningful social connection.

Partnerships’ care comes in many forms. Patients, new or established, can be seen the same day. Clinics are located in Missoula, Seeley Lake and Superior to ensure equal access to quality health care. We provide routine preventative health care; acute/chronic illness care; mental health care and substance-use therapy; dental care; and have a full-service pharmacy. Our doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, social workers, dentists and behavioral health specialists work collaboratively to not only provide care, but care to see our patients reach their own goals. Additionally, PHC houses the primary care clinic for the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, which allows us to contribute to the training of health care providers and provide extended appointments to patients.

We welcome all to our beautiful facilities, whether you have private insurance, limited insurance or are uninsured. Diversity of needs and backgrounds strengthens PHC and the communities we serve. We are better together. 

Laurie Francis is the executive director of Partnership Health Center (www.partnershiphealthcenter.com).

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