History of America’s Health Centers

America’s Health Centers owe their existence to a remarkable turn of events in U.S. history, and to a number of determined community health and civil rights activists who fought more than 50 years ago to improve the lives of Americans living in deep poverty and in desperate need of healthcare.

Among those determined to change these conditions was H. Jack Geiger, then a young doctor and civil rights activist who, while studying in South Africa, witnessed how a unique community-based healthcare model had brought about astonishing health improvements for the poorest citizens of that country.

Moving on the opportunity presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s major War on Poverty initiatives in the early 1960s, Dr. Geiger and other healthcare pioneers submitted proposals to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity to establish health centers in medically underserved inner city and rural areas of the country based on the same healthcare model Geiger had studied in South Africa. Funding for the first two “Neighborhood Health Centers” (as they were then called) – one in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in Mound Bayou, Mississippi – was approved in 1965, and the Community Health Centers Program was launched.

The health center model that emerged targeted the roots of poverty by combining the resources of local communities with federal funds to establish neighborhood clinics in both rural and urban areas around America. It was a formula that not only empowered communities to establish and direct health services at the local level via consumer-majority governing boards, but also generated compelling proof that affordable and accessible healthcare produced compounding benefits.

Out in the Rural: A Health Center in Mississippi featuring H. Jack Geiger, M.D.

For photos, stories and more information on the history of America’s Health Centers visit the CHC Chronicles.

For information on the Community Health Center Alumni Association (CHCAA) and related events visit the CHCAA.