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CEO, Kari Ellingstad MPH
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Community Health Centers Remain Lifelines for Residents

Our very own CEO, Kari Ellingstad MPH recently featured as a guest columnist in the Herald Tribune and wrote about the undeniable importance of the nation’s health centers.

“In the intricate tapestry of health care access in the United States, the recent closures of Walmart clinics stand in stark contrast to the steadfast presence of the nation’s 1,400 Community Health Centers. As Walmart shuts its doors on these vital health care resources, it’s a poignant moment to reflect on the enduring resilience of community health centers, which continue to serve as lifelines for millions despite formidable economic challenges. Walmart, a corporate behemoth, decided to shutter its in-store clinics even before its expansion plans took off. While these clinics provided convenient access to basic health care services, their closure emphasizes the transient nature of corporate health care initiatives that are subject to the whims of profit margins. In contrast, community health centers stand as pillars of stability; they provide essential care to more than 31.5 million Americans, often in under-served areas where health care resources are scarce. These centers provide a safety net for many vulnerable populations and offer a wide range of services – including primary care, dental care, mental health services and more. However, the road for community health centers is not without obstacles. Historically underfunded and often overlooked, these centers have long operated in the shadow of larger health care institutions. Despite their critical role in ensuring health care equity, community health centers face many challenges. Reduced funding in the post-pandemic world, coupled with staffing challenges and stagnant reimbursement rates, have pushed many centers into a state of crisis. The rising tide of inflation only adds to their financial woes, making it increasingly difficult to provide quality care to those who need it most.

Yet despite these adversities, community health centers continue to persevere. Their commitment to serving the underserved remains unwavering; they are driven by mission rather than profit. These centers operate on the front lines of health care, bridging gaps in access and addressing disparities that plague our medical care system. As we bid farewell to Walmart clinics, let us not forget the enduring presence of community health centers. It’s time we recognize their invaluable contributions and provide them with the support they need to thrive and to ensure that no one is left behind in the pursuit of health and well-being.”

Kari Ellingstad, MPH is the CEO of CenterPlace Health, a federally qualified health center. It has six locations across Sarasota County and serves more than 28,000 individuals every year. Community health centers provide essential care to residents across Sarasota County and serve as a medical safety net for many vulnerable populations.