Community Health Centers Light a Path Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

Jairo Mejia, M.D., Chief Medical Officer

August 13, 2020

This week we join community health centers from across the country to celebrate National Health Center Week and recognize the critical role community health centers play in our health system today. As one of the leading Medicaid primary care providers in the State of Illinois and one of the nation’s largest networks of community health centers, ACCESS is proud to be the medical home of choice to approximately 175,000 patients each year.  


As ACCESS’ Chief Medical Officer, that is a huge responsibility that weighs on me heavily each passing day, but never more than during the past few months.  While I have never endured a more stressful time in my career, this pandemic has only strengthened my commitment to community health and ACCESS’ mission.   


For most providers entering community health care, they have no idea the many roles they must play in the day-to-day cycle of being on the frontlines of public health. From acting as a confidant to troubleshooting issues through the lens of a scientist and helping patients navigate our complex health care system, my team of providers go above and beyond the traditional clinical care role. As a community health care provider for over 20 years, I also know that we do our best work when we have a strong, trusted partnership with our patients. Now more than ever, we must recognize our responsibility to support and keep our patients engaged in their health and well-being. 


That is why ACCESS has worked so hard on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning. In the past five months alone, we have had to rethink, reimagine and readily adapt our care delivery model to continue to serve and stay connected to our vulnerable patient population.  


To stay connected and support patients during Illinois’ shelter in place order, ACCESS first quickly pivoted and launched a telephonic telehealth model within two weeks, which includes primary and preventive health services as well as behavioral health support. And in less than a month’s time, ACCESS opened five custom-designed COVID-19 testing sites in some of the area’s hardest hit Black and Latinx communities to provide free COVID-19 testing and help stop the spread and contain the virus. 


We also cannot deny that we are facing not one but, two pandemics: COVID-19 and racism. So many of our patients are victims of systemic racism and health inequity – living with trauma, poverty and isolation solely due to their zip code and color of their skin. This pandemic has only illuminated those inequities more as we see how this virus has devastated our communities of color. 


In thinking of this year’s National Health Center Week theme of “Lighting the Way for Healthier Communities Today and in the Future,” I cannot think of a better theme as I have been so amazed by the innovation, dedication and resilience of our health center teams.  I am so proud of #TeamACCESS and look forward to our teams continuing to the ‘light the way’ through this pandemic and into the future for many years to come. This is why community health centers matter.