GERING — Jeff Tracy, Community Action Health Center chief operating officer, walked through the center’s lobby and heard a new patient proclaim, “I had no idea you guys were here. This is a nice place.”
Tracy continued on his day. The CAHC is still sometimes a secret because many people don’t know the health center exists until they are in need of services, but for 25 years, CAHC has been providing care to thousands of people in the valley.
“Sometimes we are a well-kept secret,” Tracy said. “Our hope is that when people do access those services, they have a positive experience and come back.”
Tracy’s hopes have been mostly fulfilled. There is a loyal group of people who access the clinic, which is staffed with high-quality medical personnel to meet the needs of the community.
The CAHC will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Monday and Tuesday during National Health Center Week. The facility has been better known as CAPWN, Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, but, as with the growth of the facility, the name change is part of better exemplifying what they can do.
Last year, CAHC was in the top 25 percent of nearly 1,400 health centers nationwide in terms of quality of care. That rank is determined by 17 clinical measures in medical, dental and behavioral health. The dedication from staff, who could go anywhere else and make more money, is what keeps patients coming back and new ones walking through the door.
“The majority of the people that community health centers see are at or below the federal poverty guideline,” Tracy said. “We see people across the economic spectrum.”
At CAHC, their mission is to provide comprehensive health care to people who struggle to find that healthcare. By providing comprehensive health care — medical, dental, behavioral — CAHC gives their patients a better chance at positive outcomes in every aspect of their life.
The original 12,500-square-foot building was expanded in 2002 and again in 2009 to where it is today. In 2017, CAHC saw 6,774 unduplicated patients in behavioral, medical, dental, migrant, reproductive health and other areas of care. It’s a big difference from 1993 when CAHC first opened. Back then, people gathered together due to of a lack of access to care for a group of people in the valley. Volunteers came together, providing time and equipment to get things running. The community saw a need and tried to fill it. Once CAHC was able to obtain its initial grant, they knew they could do more.
Having ongoing, consistent, integrated care keeps people active and engaged in their lives and in the community. Statistics bear this out, but Margo Hartman, CAHC chief executive officer, has heard about the results firsthand.
“I know of stories where someone will say, ‘I couldn’t go to work the pain was so bad, I had to see a dentist. Now I can go back to work,’” Hartman said.
Tracy said, because of CAHC’s ability to offer comprehensive services on a sliding fee scale, there is an increase in the number of people who can access care. Without that assistance, there would be more people who struggle to access services.
“If a provider sees an issue that needs behavioral support, let’s make that connection right now and look at the person holistically,” Hartman said.
As part of National Health Center Week, CAHC will host two events to celebrate staffs nationwide who bring health care to the medically underserved.
On Monday, Aug. 13 at noon, Congressman Adrian Smith will speak to CAHC staff about the importance of community health centers at the federal, state and local levels.
“Adrian has been a huge supporter of community health centers,” Tracy said. “He likes the idea of it being comprehensive care.”
Longtime staff will also be honored.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, from 5:30-7 p.m., the CAHC Clinic at 975 Crescent Dr. in Gering, will host a Community Open House. The open house will have activities for children, a drawing for five free school physicals and staff will conduct tours of the health center clinic.
CAHC is part of a nationwide network of health centers that serve more than 27 million Americans. Locally, CAHC staff work together to provide a holistic approach to care. Their work reduces health care costs and help reduce chronic diseases.
For 25 years, CAHC has worked to minimize financial barriers to care. They plan to continue that work well into the future. Not everyone knows about CAHC or their work until a medical issue arises. The open house will answer many people’s questions, so when that time arises, they will know of a place to go.
“We would love it if people came down to see what it is that we do and take a tour of the clinic,” Tracy said. “It’s always fun to be able to show the place you work and the impact we make in the community.”