Opinion: Safety net clinics serving communities in need deserve our attention

By Sharon Adams

There is nothing simple about the state of health care in Colorado. It’s filled with activities and initiatives around delivery system redesign, payment reform, quality improvement and practice transformation.

All of this work and innovation is designed for better care delivered at a lower cost with greater patient satisfaction. Colorado’s Community Safety Net Clinics know a thing or two about innovation, transformation, cost effectiveness and serving patients and families, and doing so on extremely tight budgets.

Sharon Adams

Sharon Adams

Safety Net Clinics have and will continue to make life-changing differences every day in their communities. They remain a vital part of the health care delivery system during times of change, including  health care reform.

While the number of uninsured individuals and families in Colorado has decreased, having insurance coverage does not always translate into easy access to health care services. There are also other unintended consequences of health care reform, but as with anything new, there are going to be bumps in the road.

Health insurance coverage can be very confusing, and the newly insured often struggle to understand their coverage. Some providers in our communities don’t accept certain insurance, and for some newly insured patients, the deductibles, copays and coinsurance are still too expensive, so they delay getting care despite having coverage. Safety Net Clinics are skilled at being adaptable and flexible in the face of change, and they are continuing to find ways to provide health care to those in need.

Colorado’s Community Safety Net Clinics include approximately 40 sites serving Coloradans who are lower income and uninsured, underinsured, and/or insured through public programs like Medicaid, CHP+ and Medicare. These clinics do not turn away an individual or family based on an inability to pay.

In addition, they provide care on modest budgets with limited paid staff. Safety Net Clinics do not receive supplemental federal funding to provide services to people in need. Instead, they fund their operations through philanthropic donations and grants, modest patient revenue and in-kind donations. In addition,  some staffing models rely heavily on volunteer providers and administrators.

Last year, Community Safety Net Clinics provided an estimated 495,000 visits to approximately 150,000 underserved Coloradans.

Finding a health care professional who provides patient-centered, culturally competent care can be a challenge for low-income, at-risk individuals and families. These clinics seek to meet patient needs by providing one or more health care services including primary care, behavioral health, oral health treatment, optical and/or specialty care.

In addition, these clinics help address other factors such as transportation, child care, and food and housing challenges that can create barriers to their patients achieving the best possible health outcomes. Access to specialty care remains a challenge for many patients, and Safety Net Clinics work hard to try to  enable specialty care access for patients.

The patients served at these clinics are men, women, families, children and seniors. Many adults work full time, some are stay-at-home parents and some are retired after decades of work. Some are children who live with families caught in the margins.

In many cases, patients are uninsured because they are not eligible for any coverage, and many others are unemployed or simply find that the newer coverages are still unaffordable. In all cases, these people are members of our communities who need access to health care.

During Safety Net Clinic Week, Aug. 17-21, 2015, we recognize clinics that continue to meet the needs of the communities across our state. We celebrate doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, and the countless volunteers who work selflessly to ensure that all people have access to health care.

Sharon Adams is the executive director of ClinicNET, the centralized voice for Colorado’s Community Safety Net Clinics, committed to strengthening Colorado’s safety net for people in need by advancing health equity, health care access and innovative care delivery.


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