On a recent trip to California, as part of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Strong Start, Bright Future back-to-school bus tour, I had the opportunity to visit Operation Samahan (Tagalog for “working together”), a community health center located in National City, CA that predominantly serves the Filipino American community and low-income, uninsured families and individuals.
During my visit, I learned about the organization’s humble beginnings forty years ago, when a group of volunteer doctors and nurses met in a barber shop in downtown San Diego. Frustrated by the lack of culturally and linguistically competent health care services available to their own families and communities, they began seeing Filipino American and Latino patients, focused on providing primary and preventive care. The demand for their services rapidly grew, and Operation Samahan was born. The health clinic has since grown to six sites throughout the County of San Diego and provides a comprehensive spectrum of health care and preventive services.
Community health centers such as Operation Samahan play a vital role in delivering health care services in communities with historically high rates of uninsured Americans – and are equipped to do so in a culturally and linguistically competent manner. These health centers are also on the front lines of helping uninsured residents enroll in new health insurance options available in the Health Insurance Marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. And because of the Affordable Care Act, many uninsured Americans are gaining coverage through Medicaid and the Marketplaces. A number of these newly insured individuals will be turning to community health centers for health care – especially culturally and linguistically competent services. Increasing the capacity of community health centers across the country to meet these new demands is critical.
Just last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new $150 million investment under the Affordable Care Act to help health centers provide more individuals and families across the country with access to quality health care services. This investment will help support a total of 236 new community health center sites nationwide that provide essential health care services, such as primary and dental care, to approximately 1.25 million additional patients.
Several health centers that are focused on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, including Operation Samahan, will receive these new investments:
These funds will be important to help improve access to quality health care services for all Americans.
Maria Pastrana Lujan is an Advisor on Community Engagement at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.