January 2, 2024
“What does an organization and a movement that makes health equity its goal look like?” asks bioethicist Carolyn P. Neuhaus, research scientist at The Hastings Center, a leading institute for the study of ethical issues in health, science, and technology.
In “Cultivating Peace and Health at Community Health Centers,” Dr. Neuhaus has written an insightful essay that focuses on Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC) and its 50-year history, as told in Charles Barber’s book Peace & Health: How a Group of Small-Town Activists and College Students Set Out to Change Healthcare. CHC, Inc. is the oldest and largest branch of the Moses/Weitzman Health System, the first health system in the United States dedicated to primary care for underserved communities.
Dr. Neuhaus specializes in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), a subset of community health centers in the United States.
Reflecting on the important role of FQHCs in the larger movement for health justice, Neuhaus points out that FQHCs are places where local residents and health care professionals have long understood the connection between social conditions and health. Community health centers demonstrate what is possible when local concerns unite with national politics and economics to produce organizations that work for people.
“Every CHC responds to the local community’s needs and the local political and social milieu,” she writes. That was certainly true of Community Health Center, Inc., founded in the early 1970s at the height of the Vietnam War. Its founders, notes Dr. Neuhaus, saw the connection between young adults’ sense of anger and abandonment, to society’s problems of poverty, racism, disenfranchisement, and the lack of access to respectful health care.
Today, Dr. Neuhaus observes, the same core ideas continue to power the national movement for health justice: that everyone deserves respectful, high quality health care, and that “addressing the social drivers of health—like access to food, water, education, and stable housing—is within the remit of a health care organization.”
The histories of centers like CHC, Inc. are foundational to the continuing quest for health justice. These histories matter for the lessons they teach, and especially for the visions they nourish. In Dr. Neuhaus’s words, they provide to present and future generations “a shot of courage.”