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Healthy Connections, Inc., is joining Community Health Centers across the nation in marking National Health Center Week (NHCW).

The campaign is an annual celebration to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s Health Centers for more than five decades. This year’s observation is significantly different from years past due to Covid-19. This year we honor the innovative work of the health centers in addressing the pandemic and the memory of providers, staff, and beloved patients who lost their lives to the virus.

“At Healthy Connections we are driven by the mission that we can provide quality health care to the population in the areas we serve – a population that has been neglected in the past,” Healthy Connections CEO Tony Calandro said. “This year we were charged with providing mass testing for Covid-19 in both the areas we serve and beyond. We responded by providing more than 4,000 free Covid-19 tests outside of our clinics at pop-up locations from Little Rock to Texarkana.”

Healthy Connections, Inc., which is based in Mena, is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) with clinics in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Mena, Malvern, Arkadelphia, Mount Ida, and De Queen. The Healthy Connections Community Health Network includes Evolve Behavioral Health and Medication Management, Little Rock’s Health For Life Clinic, Mena’s Rich Mountain Chiropractic, and Healthy HouseCalls, a new home-visiting program scheduled to debut in 2020.

For most services, Healthy Connections accepts Medicaid, ARKids 1st, Medicare, and most private health insurance. There is also a sliding-fee scale for patients without health insurance who qualify. Medicaid patients may be required to switch their primary care provider to Healthy Connections before they can be seen.

Specialties offered include primary care, pediatrics, behavioral health, dental, cardiology, podiatry, chiropractic, wound care, addiction treatment, HIV/AIDS care, and hormone therapy for both men and women. Learn more about Healthy Connections at www.healthy-connections.org.

Community Health Centers are the largest primary health care system in the U.S., serving more than 30 million patients.  More than 95 percent of health centers can test for the virus and have tested more than 2.4 million people since April. About 14 percent of tests are positive – far higher than the national average because many health center patients are America’s essential workers, people who harvest our food, stock grocery store shelves, or clean public spaces, and who do not have the luxury of telework or paid leave.  Health centers serve onethird of all people living in poverty. Two-thirds of patients are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

“As soon as the COVID virus was identified in the U.S. our health centers moved quickly to offer telehealth and to set up thousands of testing sites across the country — both stationary and mobile — while putting their own lives on the line,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “Their efforts have been critical to keeping non-emergency cases out of our already overburdened hospitals.”

The 236,000 dedicated staff at health centers have sacrificed greatly for their efforts to save lives: more than 11,300 have tested positive for the virus.

Van Coverden also noted the financial toll that the pandemic has exacted on health center operations.  “Thousands of sites have been forced to close. Health centers need at least $7.6 billion to keep their doors open through November; and even more important stabilized operational long-term funding is needed beyond November. Congress has been helpful with limited funding, but, it’s not enough. Many health centers are still at risk.”

The theme for NHCW 2020 is “Lighting the Way for Healthier Communities Today and in the Future.” During this week of remembrance, health center advocates will light candles on behalf of community health leaders and patients who were lost in the fight against COVID.