Letter: Keeping our communities healthy
Growing up on the prairie, the metaphor of roots has always been important to me, conjuring images of fields and flower beds. My roots are the land and the people that have nurtured me, helped me grow, and ultimately keep me connected to this place. So, as the CEO of an organization that works to support strong and healthy communities throughout the Dakotas, I was pleased to partner with Gov. Doug Burgum to declare August 4-10 Community Healthcare Week in North Dakota, with the theme of “America’s Health Centers: Rooted in Communities.”
Recently, I heard a story on public radio that expanded my understanding about roots and how they keep an ecosystem strong. Prior to the work of a forest scientist named Suzanne Simard , we thought of plants and trees primarily competed for nutrients and water. Simard’s work has shown that forests are actually a highly interconnected network that is constantly exchanging nutrients and other essential information about forest life underground through its roots. Strong trees can send extra nutrients to smaller or weaker trees when they are particularly stressed. The largest, oldest trees, also known as “mother trees,” can help to feed and protect a network of smaller trees in their area. That is part of the reason that when a forest is clear-cut, the new trees that are planted tend to be more susceptible to disease and death. But, when we retain key parts of a forest, it is remarkably capable of healing itself and supporting new growth.
I think that’s pretty cool.
So, how does this metaphor relate to community health centers?
Like “mother trees,” community health centers help to nurture strong local communities. CHCs are all nonprofit mission-driven organizations governed by local, community-based boards. They keep communities healthy by providing comprehensive, integrated primary and preventive care to everyone regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. In 2018, North Dakota CHCs provided high-quality, cost-effective care to over 40,000 individuals at 21 delivery sites in 19 communities. They provided medical, dental, behavioral health and school-based care.
In our rural communities, health centers help sustain access to health care in communities that might not otherwise have it. We have all seen the powerful impact to a community when a part of the local ecosystem — whether it is a local business, school, or health services — are removed. As with a forest, a certain number of trees can be taken away and forest can survive, but if there are too many lost or a really impactful tree disappears, the whole system could become susceptible to disease and decay.
The state’s health centers are also keeping communities healthy through their impact on local economies. A recent report from the Black Hills Knowledge Network and the Community Healthcare Association of the Dakotas shows that CHCs contribute over $68 million and more than 600 jobs to our state’s economy.
To learn more about the community health centers and their impact on your community, visit www.communityhealthcare.net/nhcw or follow us on Facebook or Twitter this week as we celebrate Community Health Center Week.