Paul Miranda of Hillsborough began using the Prospect Hill Community Health Center about five years ago when he did not have health insurance. He acknowledged that he was skeptical about the center at first but found the quality of care high and continues to use it today even though he has private insurance.
“When I met Dr. [Beat] Steiner [one of the centers doctors], the level of care appeared to be more than competent,” said the 41-year-old stay-at-home dad. “Everyone here seems to know their stuff.”
Miranda, who made his comments during an open house at the health center on Dec. 20, already understands what the Prospect Hill Community Health Center — and health centers like it across the state — would like everybody to know: The centers provide high-quality, affordable health care and are there for anyone to use.
Prospect Hill is part of a network of six community health centers operated by Piedmont Health Services. The Carrboro-based agency runs centers in Orange, Chatham, Caswell and Alamance counties. There are 32 Community Health Centers across North Carolina.
Leaders of Community Health Centers (CHCs) say they are trying to get patients through their doors for the benefit of the entire health-care system. CHCs tout themselves as one of the most efficient forms of medical care; they point to a recent report showing that CHCs in North Carolina spend 62 percent less for health care than other outpatient medical centers for patients of similar health statuses and demographic characteristics. The August report was produced jointly by the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy at George Washington University and the RCHN Community Health Foundation.
Without options such as community health centers, patients tend to use hospital emergency rooms — which are much more expensive — even for routine health care.
Part of challenge in bringing people through the doors is that people just don’t know about CHCs, according to Delores Ramsey, who sits on the board of directors of the Prospect Hill Community Health Center. She has been reaching out to residents in the surrounding community and has run into a lot of misperceptions.
“A lot of them say, ‘I don’t make enough money to go there, or some say, ‘I make too much money,” Ramsey said.
Part of the misperception about the centers stems from the fact that they do not turn anyone away because of inability to pay. The nonprofit, federally funded centers charge on a sliding scale basis, depending upon ability to pay.
That makes some think the centers are only for low-income people, Ramsey said. The truth is that there are no income limits on who can utilize the center. Private insurance is accepted, as well as Medicaid and Medicare.
Actually, CHCs have a diverse mix of patients. Piedmont Health Services has a health program with local chambers of commerce that brings in many business owners looking for high-quality care at an affordable price, said Sharon Sexton, director of the Caswell County Chamber of Commerce, who attended the open house.
In a way, Prospect Hill’s efforts are an effort to get back to the future. Many years ago, Prospect Hill was a popular place to get health care, according to Me’Shall Poole, who grew up in the nearby Sweetgum community and now works as Prospect Hill’s Nurse Manager.
“This was the place to go,” Poole said. But the older generation has died off and younger residents tend to look past Prospect Hill toward more well known institutions like UNC, she said.
“We’ve really lost touch with the community over time and we’re trying to reconnect with everybody,” said Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health Services. “We’re here to make sure that health care stays in a community like this because getting health care would be more difficult if we weren’t here.”