Report: Closing the Primary-Care Gap for Arkansans

    A new report found more than three million Arkansans are among 100 million Americans facing barriers to accessing primary medical care.

    The National Association of Community Health Centers said many in Arkansas live in areas without enough primary-care providers.

    Lanita White, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, pointed out the state is mostly rural and people often have to travel many miles to get to the nearest primary-care provider. She added patients also experience issues with getting care due to the state's workforce shortage.

    "And even in the larger areas, we have some disparities in those services, because we just don't have enough providers," White pointed out. "It makes it difficult in a lot of ways for patients to get to those services easily, or know where the services are, or even get into those services, especially in the case of behavioral health and mental health."

    White noted Community Health Centers offer robust telehealth services, but not everyone has access to a good broadband connection, so they could use telehealth. In the latest annual survey on the website Arkansas ranks 48th among states for internet coverage, speed and availability.

    Joe Dunn, senior vice president for public policy and research at the National Association of Community Health Centers, said 90% of the patients treated at the clinics have incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, making them critical in treating vulnerable and often uninsured populations.

    Dunn emphasized without the centers, 15 million people would be at risk of not having a regular source of primary care.

    "Children represent almost a quarter of the medically disenfranchised population that we analyzed," Dunn reported. "Obviously, as we think of starting off children on a positive foot, you know, ideally, caring for them in a very comprehensive manner, to establish good habits and prevent later disease."

    The report noted 65% of Community Health Center patients come from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds. Dunn said pandemic only underscored the importance of their work.

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