My “roots” are the land and the people that have nurtured me, helped me grow, and ultimately keep me connected to this place. So, as the chief executive officer of an organization that works to support strong and healthy communities throughout the Dakotas, I am pleased to partner with Governor Kristi Noem to declare August 4-10 Community Healthcare Week in South Dakota with the theme, “America’s Health Centers: Rooted in Communities.”
Prior to the work of a forest scientist named Suzanne Simard, we thought of plants and trees primarily competed for nutrients and water. Dr. Simard’s work has shown that forests are actually a highly interconnected network that is constantly exchanging nutrients and other essential information about forest life underground through its roots. Strong trees can send extra nutrients to smaller or weaker trees when they are particularly stressed. The largest, oldest trees, also known as “mother trees,” can help to feed and protect a network of smaller trees in their area. That is part of the reason that when a forest is clear-cut, the new trees that are planted tend to be more susceptible to disease and death. But, when we retain key parts of a forest, it is remarkably capable of healing itself and supporting new growth.
Like “mother trees,” community health centers help nurture strong local communities. CHCs are non-profit mission-driven organizations governed by local, community-based boards. They keep communities healthy by providing comprehensive, integrated primary and preventive care to everyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. In 2018, South Dakota CHCs provided high-quality, cost-effective care to nearly 68,000 individuals at 42 delivery sites in 33 communities. They provided medical, dental, behavioral health, and school-based care.
In our rural communities, health centers help sustain access to health care in communities that might not otherwise have it. We have all seen the powerful impact to a community when a part of the local ecosystem – whether it is a local business, school, or health services — are removed. A certain number of trees can be taken away and a forest can survive, but if there are too many lost or a really impactful tree disappears, the whole system could become susceptible to disease and decay.
The state’s health centers are also keeping communities healthy through their impact on local economies. A recent report from the Black Hills Knowledge Network and the Community Healthcare Association of the Dakotas shows that CHCs contribute over $90 million and nearly 1,000 jobs to our state’s economy.
To learn more, visit the CHAD’s website www.communityhealthcare.net/nhcw or follow us on Facebook or Twitter this week as we celebrate Community Health Center Week.
Before joining CHAD in 2016, Shelly Ten Napel served as the director of the Health Care Reform and Innovation Administration in the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), which housed the District’s Medicaid agency