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California Clinics Launch Educational Campaign

California clinics and community health centers launched a statewide educational-slash-attitudinal campaign this week to increase understanding and support for national health care reform.

“We think it’s really important for people to understand what this new law means, particularly for our population who are going to be tremendous beneficiaries of the changes ahead,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association.

CPCA represents more than 800 not-for-profit community clinics and health centers providing health care services to some four million Californians, many of them low-income, uninsured and underserved.

With buttons, banners and informational pamphlets in English and Spanish, clinic workers trained as “health care ambassadors” are poised to explain changes, answer questions and generally proselytize the benefits of health care. The campaign kick-off was timed to coincide with National Health Center Week, Aug. 8- Aug.14.

Activism Mixed With Education

In addition to educating clinic employees and patients about the details of health care reform, CPCA’s campaign also carries an element of activism. Clinic and health center officials hope to increase popular support for health care reform, born in controversy and still facing opposition in state legislatures, court rooms and public polls.

“This has been a very contentious issue. We’re aware of that, and we’re conscious of the need to build public support,” Castellano-Garcia said. “So, yes, there is an element of activism involved.”

Castellano-Garcia, who started working in the California health care arena in 1991 as part of an effort to increase access for Latinos, said the satisfaction and promise of getting health reform enacted has been undermined by controversy.

“This has been such a long time coming for so many of us, to have it soured by this broader political attack now is very unfortunate. We felt we needed to do our part to help educate people, and we think that will build support. We do have four million patients, and when people begin to understand what this law means for them, I think you’ll see support grow,” Castellano-Garcia said.

‘Ahead of the Curve’

Answers in CPCA’s frequently-asked-questions campaign document range from a broad explanation of health care reform in the simplest terms to details about how an asthma patient might benefit from the new law.  The FAQ also includes details of how different groups are affected by the law — adults, children, families, seniors, and documented and undocumented immigrants.

The campaign, in the planning stages since the new law was singed in March, is thought to be the fist statewide educational effort involving health care reform.

“We kind of feel like we’re ahead of the curve,” Castellano-Garcia said. “This has been in the works from the beginning. National Health Center Week really helped light the fire under us and gave us a deadline.”

The second week of August each year honors health centers and clinics providing health services to low-income and underserved populations. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the creation of the national Community Health Centers Program, the federal underpinning of the country’s clinics.

Health centers and clinics expect to be the medical home of 30 million people in the United States by 2015. The patient base is about 20 million people now, including almost a million farm workers and a million homeless.

Well-Suited for Educational Campaign

Because of its statewide oversight and regional infrastructure, CPCA is well-suited to conduct an educational effort on health care reform, and the fact that it’s the first group to do it, does not come as a surprise to CPCA officials.

But they hope they won’t be alone for long.

“We’d love to see other groups jump in with their own programs — like the CMA or the AMA, or others,” Castellano-Garcia said. “We understand that because of our situation — we’re an association with a centralized bureaucracy and 14 regional associations — that we’re in a good position to do this.”

“We also understand that it’s our patients who stand to benefit the most from this new law so that gives us added incentive,” Castellano-Garcia added.

The campaign is funded partially by a grant from the Tides Foundation and fueled by research funded by the California Endowment. Research indicates that public understanding of health care reform increases support for the law.



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