During this, National Health Center Week, I am reminded that the survival and success of the Mason Clinic over the past few decades has depended upon federal tax dollars directed at maintaining and improving healthcare services in medically underserved areas such as ours. The Rural Health Services act of 1977 recognized the inadequate supply of physicians in rural areas and established a system to enable and encourage physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners to practice in rural locations. Though no one remembers exactly when, the Mason Clinic gained Rural Health Clinic status over 20 years ago. Through the RHC “cost-based” reimbursement formula, the clinic was able to make ends meet and maintain affiliation with local managing hospitals (first Hill Country Memorial, then Llano Memorial), while meeting the RHC goal of cost-effective primary care close to home. In 2008, the Mason Clinic joined the Frontera Healtcare Network , becoming a federally-qualified Community Health Center. Community Health Centers date back to 1965 and are proven to be among the most cost-effective of all healthcare delivery systems. Total patient care costs at CHC’s are 25-50% lower than care in other settings, and quality is equal to or above that of care received elsewhere. In management of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and asthma, CHC’s meet or exceed current medical practice standards.* When primary care is readily available at home, the use of regional emergency rooms and hospitals is lower, saving all users and tax-payers dollars. Finally, having a hometown clinic provides jobs to our community and helps us attract and retain residents. As a fiscal conservative, I fret over our current federal deficit; however I also know that I am reaping some of the benefits of the spending. As a citizen of the county and employee of the Mason Clinic I am thankful for the subsidies afforded Mason County through the Rural Health Clinic and Community Health Center programs of our federal government: without these “entitlements” I would not be able to live and work in Mason, Texas. I am happy to see my tax dollars so wisely and efficiently spent. I am delighted that healthcare reform planners emulate RHC’s and CHC’s as very effective and proven models, and I hope that funding for RHC and CHC programs survives and grows in spite of the current federal budget crisis. Finally, during this, National Health Center Week, I want to thank Frontera Healthcare Network and our volunteer local board members, Thom Canfield (board president for over 8 years), Monica Hinckley, and Rosemary Cohen, as well as our other past and current regional partners, Hill Country Memorial Hospital and Llano Scott & White Hospital, for their role in keeping the Mason Clinic alive and well through the decades.
Sherry Alexander, Physician Assistant
*according to studies and reports by the National Association of Community Health Clinics, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.