Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Spring 2019 - 22

M e d i c a l r e c o r d f e at u r e

Berks County Community
Health Center
by Mary Kelleher, MD, Chief Medical Officer

I

n September 2011 the New York Times featured a headline
'Reading, Pa., Knew It Was Poor. Now It Knows Just How
Poor." To the surprise of many it was determined that
Reading, Pennsylvania had the highest share of people living in
poverty in the country. Though that statistic shocked many, others
who lived and worked in the city, who were familiar with the
struggles of the residents of Reading, that unwelcomed ranking just
reinforced that Reading was a city that had fallen on hard times.
Cities that have such a high rate of poverty and the residents that
inhabit them have many struggles such as food insecurity, high
rates of violence, high rates of unemployment, low tax bases for
school funding and often great disparities in access to health care
and poor health outcomes. What also surprised many was the
recognition that a city the size of Reading, with such a high rate of
poverty, did not have a federally funded health care center to meet
the health care needs of the people. Individuals from different
organizations throughout Berks County and the major health care
systems soon came together and identified bringing a federally
funded community health center (FQHC) to the city of Reading a
top healthcare priority.
In 2012 that dream became a reality and Berks Community
Health Center (BCHC), the first federally funded community
health center, opened its doors for the residents in the city of
Reading and all of Berks County. What is unique about FQHCs is
their mission is to serve all patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Federally Qualified Health Centers are community-based health
care providers that receive funds from the federal HRSA Health
Center Program to provide primary care services in medically
underserved areas. FQHCs including BCHC must meet a stringent
set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee
scale based on the patient's ability to pay and operating under a
governing board that includes patients served by the health center.
Berks County and the medical community can be proud of
the great advances in health care that have been brought to the
county. Families no longer have to seek specialty care outside of
the county. Tower Health and Penn State Health St Joseph are
two tertiary care hospitals that are leaders in health care delivery
and are often on the cutting edge of advancements in medical care.
However, to many in our community there still exists a struggle to
get access to basic health care needs. People living in poverty, the
uninsured, the working poor often are faced with challenges every
day to maintain their health. Over the first six years we have been

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established I can't help but reflect on the stories of patients who are
the faces of this struggle. I can remember the young mother whose
diabetes started to become uncontrolled when cutting in half the
dose of insulin she was supposed to be taking who explained that
when faced with the choice of feeding her children and paying her
rent or paying for her insulin the choice to her was an easy one. I
see the face of a patient who worked hard to control her chronic
medical problems that when losing a job and with it her health
insurance died alone in her room from complications of asthma at
the age of 44. I remember the patient who deferred undergoing
a colonoscopy for her complaint of rectal bleeding due to lack
of health care coverage only to find out months later when the
weakness and weight loss became impossible to ignore that she had
a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer.
FQHCs like Berks Community Health Center share a
mission to try to decrease such health disparities. The mission of
BCHC is to provide high quality primary and selected specialty
services to patients and communities where access to health care
is needed. Berks Community Health started in 2012 and has
since expanded to include 4 different locations. As our locations
have grown so have the services provided. The health center
and its Board of directors have worked hard to respond to the
health care needs of the community. When it was recognized
how high the rate of uncontrolled diabetes and the complications
seen in the Latino population the specialty services of podiatry,
optometry as well as nutritional counseling and diabetic education
were started. To address the chronic pain issues of many patients
served including providing an alternative to opiate prescription
medicines chiropractor services began to be provided. Recognizing
the prevalence of mental health issues and how untreated
psychiatric comorbidities can impact physical health an integrated
Behavioral health program was initiated. When the providers at
the center saw the devastation the opiate epidemic was having on
our community and the impact on families and patients we felt
called to action. To prevent overdose deaths and help be part of
the solution, we started to provide medication assisted therapy
and hired peer support specialists to help guide patients in their
recovery. We understood that emergency rooms have the vital role
in the community to treat the sickest and most acutely ill but not
to serve as a primary care provider, and as a result expanded walk
in evening and Saturday hours for urgent care needs.


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Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Spring 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Spring 2019

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