50th anniversary of community health centers marked in Providence

Providence Community Health Centers

The campus is new at the Providence Community Health Centers on Prairie Avenue, and the need is expanding.

"We're busting at the seams already in two years. The Affordable Care Act has really had a positive impact for us, and we need more space," the health center's Merrill Thomas said Thursday.

Community health centers were a product of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty.{}

Fifty years ago, they were set up to serve neighborhoods that were short on doctors and treat patients who have little or no insurance. They've treated millions of patients, including Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

"I speak as a patient alumnus," Elorza said. "Personally, I thank you for everything you did for me and people like me."

Rachel Kaprielian, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, learned how many people in Providence depend on these providers.

"This health center, I learned this morning, serves one-third of the people who live in this city," Kaprielian said. "That is extraordinary work."

Dr. Jose Polanco knows first-hand. He grew up in this neighborhood, and received his passport to education at this same health center.

"I still have my vaccine records, and it was our ticket to our schools. You couldn't go to school if you didn't get your vaccines," Polanco said.

There are nine health centers in Rhode Island, and they make up the largest network of primary care doctors in the state. By using electronic records and integrated health care, they are part of the future of health care in this country and efforts to reduce the cost of keeping Americans healthy.