The Chafee Health Center is bright, airy and modern, with large exam rooms, plenty of windows and a convenient location off Allens Avenue. It has a small lab on-site, plus ultrasound, family planning and other support services.
It’s the newest of Providence Community Health Centers’ six sites, opened in 2006, and it’s in high demand: Last year, it provided 19,000 medical visits, said CEO Merrill Thomas – double the previous year’s number.
The Providence centers are so busy, actually, that several aren’t taking new patients at all, Thomas said. Those that are, including Chafee, have seen a steady rise in uninsured visits: 42 percent of all patients now lack coverage, and 75 percent of new adult patients are uninsured.
“I can’t tell you how many calls we get,” said Chafee Director Lisa LaJoie. “You can only see so many new adults a day, because there’s only so much capacity, but it’s constant, daily – adults that have lost their insurance.”
The trend has been the same at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Thundermist Health Centers, East Bay Community Action Program, WellOne. Across the state, more and more patients are turning to health centers for affordable care.
Now, with $11 billion in new funding and several other benefits expected from health care reform, community health centers nationwide see a chance to expand, upgrade and position themselves to be the “medical home” for those patients, and millions more, for the long haul. In Rhode Island, where health centers served more than 112,000 people in 2008 (the most recent figure available), health care reform is inspiring big, ambitious plans.
“I’ve been meeting with our staff, saying, ‘We need to figure out how many new patients we can see, how many doctors it will take, what new space that will require,’ ” said Thomas, adding that “about 90 percent” of the Providence centers’ plans would be driven by the new law.
“This is unprecedented change,” he said. “This is like Medicare – this is how major this is. People don’t understand. We have like 140,000 uninsured in the state. All of these people are going to have access to care, and they’re going to want to go see someone.”