Community health centers that specialize in treating low-income patients are being celebrated nationwide.

This week is National Health Center Week, including in Smith County, where the Commissioners Court ratified a resolution on the topic.

The week honors health centers that have designations from the federal government to receive additional reimbursements for treating Medicaid and Medicare patients.

The idea of the federal designation is to get more primary health care services, such as routine checkups and women’s exams, to low-income patients throughout the country.

“Health centers are a critical element of the health system, serving both rural and urban communities, and often providing the only accessible and dependable source of primary care in their communities,” Smith County’s resolution reads.

Family Circle of Care, which has locations in Athens, Jacksonville and three in Tyler, gave tours of its pediatric clinic at 214 E. Houston St. on Thursday as part of the event.

Earlier in the week, Family Circle of Care donated toiletry items to homeless centers in Tyler, Athens and Jacksonville, offered free blood pressure checks, and had a patient appreciation day to give patients an item of gratitude during their visits.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are safety networks throughout town,” said Josie Huffman, the chief medical officer. The other two locations are a women’s clinic at 928 N. Glenwood Blvd. and a family clinic at 2990 N. Broadway Ave.

Huffman said the organization staffs Medicaid workers who can help new patients fill out paperwork when they come in for their first visit. If they qualify, they become retroactively eligible for six weeks prior to the application.

Those who don’t qualify for Medicaid can pay cash on the sliding scale. Households living below the poverty level — about $12,000 for one person or $25,000 for a family of four —are charged a nominal fee for an office visit.

The highest charge for those who qualify for the sliding scale is $30 for an office visit. Individuals making more than about $24,000 per year or a family of four making more than about $50,000 per year are charged the full price.

Huffman said more than half of the organization’s family practice and gynecology patients are uninsured, compared with around one-fifth of pediatric patients, and about one-tenth of obstetrics patients.

“A lot of the patients that we see haven’t had care for a long time,” she said. “They have higher acuity level, so they need more help.”

She said many of the issues her patients struggle with are outside the walls of the doctor’s office, such as poverty or low education levels.

“I think everyone in this world is a circumstance or two away from needing the services that we provide,” Huffman said.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

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