A Day Without a Community Health Center

Co-authored by Diana Olsen, HealthPoint and Katie Hewitt, Community Health Network of Washington

What would a day without a Community Health Center in your neighborhood look like? What would it mean for your community? Your neighbor? Your family? You?

In Seattle, Yakima and Spokane, Washington, one day was set aside in each community to demonstrate the impact on real people if their community health centers disappeared. It was called “A Day without a Community Health Center”, and that tagline was reflected in a sea of signs at three separate events.

These events brought to life just how many people are affected each day by community health centers across our state. The visual impact was captured on film and turned into a short video that was shared with legislators, multiplying each event’s reach. The video is still paying dividends at the state and federal level and has an enduring impact.

The Seattle event was a candlelight vigil held outside a hospital emergency room to demonstrate the number of people who would end up there without the services that community health centers provide. Partnering with Swedish Hospital, over 400 community health center patients and staff delivered a powerful message – a message that spoke volumes without words.

In Yakima, about 100 people symbolically crowded into local hospital emergency rooms to show that cuts to community health centers would send more Yakima Valley residents to ERs where care is more expensive.

The Spokane event displayed a “safety net” filled with 670 softball-sized balls representing the number of people who are served each day by Spokane area community health centers. Each ball was signed and decorated by a patient.

We all know the facts. If federal or state budget cuts become reality, it will be impossible for our health centers to continue to provide high-quality primary care, monitor chronic conditions and address other preventive care needs for an exploding population of people without insurance. Without a health care home, people will be forced to turn to emergency rooms where the high cost reverberates to each of us and there is no one to follow up with the patient’s care. As manageable illnesses become major health crises, many will lose their livelihoods, or even their lives.

That is why our advocacy cannot falter. We must continue to build awareness through unique events like “A Day without a Community Health Center.” Raising public awareness and ensuring that our policymakers are aware of the issues that affect their constituents is an ongoing effort. The more tools we use, the greater the audience and the broader the reach. When we join our voices with others who care about the health of our communities, we will be stronger.

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