August 7, 2014

Safety Net Consortium observes National Health Center Week

by Joe Baker

Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Despite what the headlines say, there is good news in health care. More people are insured and have access to medical preventive services.
However, for the underinsured and uninsured populations, provider choices and access to health care in general is more limited.

In Nashville and Middle Tennessee a group of community health centers, other clinics, hospital representatives, the Metro Health department, academics and community-based organizations have been collaborating since 2000 to meet the needs of the uninsured population. This group, called the Safety Net Consortium of Middle Tennessee (SNC), has broad and deep connections, and a commitment to improving the health of the medically underserved.

With National Health Center Week on the horizon, the SNC is celebrating its Community Health Center partners, Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, United Neighborhood Health Services, University Community Health Services and Mercy Community Healthcare.

Community health centers are a critically important part of health care delivery. The quality of care at a community health center is as good as any one finds in other practice settings. The National Association of Community Health Centers reports that community health centers save $1,263 per person treated there per year as measured by total expense per person across the whole delivery system.

This is because patients at community health centers receive more screening and preventive care and community health centers meet and often exceed practice standards for managing chronic disease. Medicaid patients receiving care at community health centers show 20 percent less emergency room use than those in other practice settings. Patients at community health centers are treated with dignity and respect by a team of caring professionals focused on preventing costly illness and disease. Treating people before they get sick means fewer hospital emergency room visits, and consumers, taxpayers, and governments save money.

In addition to providing high-quality, cost-effective care, these centers have joined with 21 other agencies and organizations in the SNC, collaborating to build capacity and coordinate efforts to improve health in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

On a monthly basis, the SNC meets to discuss the latest news related to health care reform, advocacy and how to effectively collaborate to best meet the needs of the medically underserved, amongst other topics. Since its initial establishment it has grown to include dental care, mental health care and substance abuse care safety net providers. Community organizations participating include both disability and mental health advocacy agencies.

“The Tennessee Disability Coalition participates in SNC because of our shared goals to reduce health disparities and to improve the health of individuals and the community as a whole. This is a group that has a real impact because of the knowledge, skills and commitment of its partners.” Said Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition and chair of SNC.

Some of the past initiatives of the SNC have included the establishment and operation of Bridges to Care, a program that enrolled nearly 50,000 uninsured Davidson County residents and linked them to a medical home where they receive affordable primary health care and collaborative disease management programs that help improve treatment of chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

More recently, given the changes related to the Affordable Care Act. The SNC has focused on supporting the health care and advocacy communities to work together to manage the changes, assist uninsured families in obtaining insurance through the insurance exchange, advocate for effective policies and programs and to address gaps and barriers.

The clinics that make up the consortium are Faith Family Medical Clinic, Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, the Clinic at Mercury Courts, Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, Saint Thomas Family Health Centers, Siloam Family Health Center, United Neighborhood Health Services, Mercy Community Healthcare and University Community Health Services.

Aug. 10 - 16 is National Health Center Week, which celebrates community health centers that for 45 years have provided quality affordable care to the underserved, and the Safety Net Consortium of Middle Tennessee is proud to take part in the celebration.

If you are looking for a health care provider and want to learn more about those who are part of the Safety Net Consortium, or if you are interested in learning more about this long-standing collaborative effort, go to the consortium website at