By Marion Walls, Board Vice Chair at Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN)

I’ve lived within a 5 mile radius of Colfax and Havana in Aurora, Colorado for over 35 years. I’ve seen Denver and its surrounding communities undergo many changes during my time here. While I have helped many of my neighbors navigate these changes through my involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous and local nonprofits, I have had to face my own challenges as well.

My experience with homelessness and the health issues that accompanied that experience were some of the most daunting challenges I’ve faced. Living out of my car and facing serious mental health issues, along with battling alcohol addition, I sought help at a local Community Health Center, Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN). The staff at MCPN not only helped me receive medical treatment but also walked me through how to apply for housing and access mental health services. Through MCPN and their partnership with Aurora Mental Health Center, I began to see amazing improvements to my overall quality of life, and I am not alone.

Nationally, Community Health Centers like MCPN help more than 25 million Americans access important integrated primary healthcare services. Community Health Centers are a safety net to the uninsured and those who may not have the financial resources to access healthcare. Typically, when people have no insurance, they will delay needed care or seek care in the hospital emergency room, requiring more costly medical interventions as they get sick. I’ve not only experienced this but I’ve seen this happen in my community. When a community doesn’t have access to affordable healthcare, we all pay a price.

Community Health Centers help diminish some of that cost. In fact, they save on average $2,371 (or 24%) in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers, according to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Yet, it is not sufficient to describe them as just another health care program. In my experience with MCPN, the staff that care for me are problem-solvers that look beyond medical charts, not only to prevent illness, but to address the factors that actually cause poor health, such as homelessness, stress, or substance abuse.

I’ve always believed that everything I’ve been through in my life was for a reason, and that one of those reasons was to give back to others who have endured similar hardships. This is why I made the choice become a Consumer Board Member on MCPN’s Board of Directors and I have served on their board for over a decade. It is my personal belief that access to healthcare should not be a partisan issue and, in fact, Community Health Centers receive support from both sides of the aisle.

At a time when efforts to reform the health care system are moving forward, the time is now to embrace people like me and so many others in my community of Aurora, who have gotten the care they desperately needed and made life-changing strides in their health through the help of Community Health Centers. That’s why I am excited to celebrate National Health Center Week from August 13 – 19th with MCPN and the 1,400 other Community Health Centers across the nation.

While Members of Congress may not see eye to eye on a lot of things, National Health Center Week is a time where many Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle take a break from the contentious debate over health care reform and show their support for a health program that delivers results for the American taxpayer: lower health care costs, healthier people, more jobs, reduced hospital visits and fewer dollars spent on “sick care.”

As a Board Member and patient of MCPN, I encourage you to celebrate National Health Center Week with MCPN and come see what we’re all about. This year’s Health and Resource Fair will be held at MCPN Jeffco Family Health Services Center in Wheat Ridge, CO on August 18th from 2:30 – 4:30pm. Dozens of vendors and community health services will be available including free oral health screenings, free yoga classes, and more. Visit www.mcpn.org for more details.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story and we hope to see you on August 18th.