These are challenging times in America. Finger-pointing, rigid thinking and so-called "otherizing" are on the rise, while bipartisanship and bridge-building are on the decline. Nothing good comes from these fear-driven philosophies and behaviors, especially with regard to health outcomes. When we stay small, protected and separate, our anxiety grows and our sense of health and well-being diminishes. We believe that Missoula and the nation are better than that.

To celebrate National Health Center Week, I want to share Missoula’s best-kept secret: Partnership Health Center (PHC.) Instead of fear and isolation, our organization has, at its roots, a spirit and culture of love and connection.

Did you know that PHC delivers medical, dental, behavioral health and pharmacy services to over 10% of Missoulians? In 2018, that meant over 16,000 patients received expert, patient-focused health care in one of our seven locations stretching from Seeley Lake to Superior. What’s more, our services are available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay, race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else. Everyone is welcome at PHC.

Our 229 staff members, including physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, clinical pharmacists and more, work passionately to build connection and improve well-being in an inviting, culturally sensitive and team-based environment. This emphasis on a human-centric and compassionate organizational culture is part of why PHC was honored with the 2019 Employer of Choice Award by Missoula Job Service. We are proud to be both a great place to receive care and work, which is why many of our employees, including me, choose PHC for our primary healthcare needs.

This week we are joining with our fellow community health centers across the nation to celebrate our collective service to 28 million people. The original goal of health centers, which began in the United States in the 1960s, was to reverse health disparities observed in people living in poverty and people of color. This model, including in Missoula, has demonstrated improved health outcomes and enormous healthcare cost savings. The result: Ongoing bipartisan support in an ever more polarized political landscape. Our commitment to improving health and well-being for all who seek care at PHC — those with many resources and those with few — is a shining example of the transformative power of equal access to care and equal opportunity to achieve wellness.

In combination with the impeccable, loving care and connection we offer all day every day, we also work on the root causes of poor health including unemployment, low wages, educational attainment, power disparities and racism. These are known as social determinants of health. Access to primary healthcare is critical, but we know that primary care alone is insufficient for all to attain high levels of health. With your engagement and the support of the community, we can continue to provide access to primary health care services and influence social determinants of health, equalizing opportunities and strengthening voices such that the entire community is healthier, together.

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Laurie Francis is CEO of Partnership Health Center in Missoula. 

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