I was talking to a group of friends recently about the joys of aging (translation: we were commiserating about the aches and pains of getting old). Yet, many of us had no plans to go see our doctor. Our reasoning? It’s inconvenient. It makes us feel vulnerable. And we tell ourselves that if we don’t go, then we don’t have to face the fact that we may need to make some lifestyle changes.
Then one friend admitted that some of his symptoms became worrisome enough that he recently saw a medical provider, one who happens to work where I work–at Hillside Health Center in Ukiah (a federally qualified health center, more on that later).
My friend said, “That doctor was great. He didn’t scold me for not coming sooner. He didn’t lecture me on all my bad habits. He just let me know what was going on and what my options were,” he said. “I’d go see that guy again.”
My friend has grandchildren and he wants to be there cheering them on when they graduate from high school ten years from now. He knows that if he ignores his health problems, he may not be able to do so.
All this got me thinking about what makes us do things we don’t want to do but we know we should. I read a book a few months ago called Start With Why by Simon Sinek. The premise is that when we take the time to focus on what matters most, it helps us put things in perspective and align our actions with our goals. For my friend, supporting his family and enjoying his grandkids now and in the future made it worth facing his fear and going to the doctor.
In Mendocino County, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and similar community health centers provide more than 75 percent of primary health care. Even though there is a nationwide shortage of primary care providers (e.g., family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics), FQHCs continually accept new patients and provide a holistic, team-based approach to care.
All FQHCs must provide medical, dental, and behavioral health services and meet strict quality standards. They are jewels shining in small communities all around our county where people would not otherwise have access to care. While FQHCs have a mandate to serve the underserved, they are open to everyone and accept both private and public insurances.
MCHC Health Centers is the biggest FHQC in the region; it is made up of four sites, including Hillside Health Center. Collectively, we recruited 12 providers in the last year. During our interviews with potential candidates, we asked why they were interested in working with us. Many of them said it was because they believed the FQHC model allows them to do their best work. They talked about the importance of being able to walk down the hall and consult with a provider of another specialty to get answers for their patients or to be able to refer a patient to a trusted colleague for additional care.
If you do not have a primary care provider, now is a great time to establish one. You’ve probably heard that for almost any ailment, early diagnosis and treatment can make a hugely positive difference–sometimes it’s the difference between life and death. When you have an established primary care provider, someone who knows you and your health history, it’s easier to get regular check ups or schedule an appointment when you notice problematic symptoms.
Since National Health Center Week is August 6 – 12, this seemed like the right time to focus on the value of good health–and to celebrate the community health centers can help you achieve it. In Mendocino County, the following health centers belong to a consortium called the Alliance for Rural Community Health, dedicated to creating healthier communities. Members include Anderson Valley Health Center (Boonville), Baechtel Creek Medical Center (Willits), Long Valley Health Center (Laytonville), MCHC Health Centers (Ukiah, Willits, and Lakeport), Mendocino Coast Clinics (Fort Bragg), and Redwood Coast Medical Services (Gualala, Point Arena).
If you’re looking for a doctor, I encourage you to call the community health center in your area to establish a primary care provider. FQHCs in Mendocino County serve everyone, insured or not, so everyone has access to the care they need. I made my appointment for next Monday.
Rod Grainger is the CEO of MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.