By Rachel Bocchino

UntitledThis year’s theme is ‘Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Transforming Health Care in Our Local Communities.’  Health centers across the United States provide affordable primary and preventive care to 22.3 million people.  They offer convenient health care close to home while often serving non-English speakers and individuals that lack of insurance, allowing patients to receive high-quality care that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Throughout this week, it is important that we recognize the outstanding services provided by health centers that are keeping Boston residents healthy.  The first community health center in the United States was opened in 1965 in Dorchester.  Boston now has 24 health centers caring for more than 300,000 people annually.  They offer a wide variety of excellent and expanding services in addition to traditional medical care, including dental, vision and behavioral health care, walk-in urgent care and on-site pharmacies.  Expensive and sometimes unnecessary visits to the emergency room can frequently be avoided if a neighborhood health center is your first stop when something is wrong.

In November 2012, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston Public Health Commission launched a campaign promoting the utilization of community health centers in an effort to eliminate differences in health based on race that are systemic, avoidable, unfair, and unjust.  The message was “When you are sick or hurt, call the neighbor you know.”  Boston’s community health centers really are the neighbors we can count on.  During this past winter’s declared influenza emergency, Boston’s health centers vaccinated over 7,500 people in free flu clinics throughout the city.  Several health centers also partnered with Weight Watchers and the Mayor’s Boston Moves for Health initiative to help lower the obesity rates that disproportionally affect the city’s residents of color.

It is important that residents realize and take advantage of the services available to them in every neighborhood in Boston, regardless of insurance status or income.  For help finding a health center near you, call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050, visit the BPHC website, or use the Mass League of Community Health Center’s convenient “Find a Health Center” tool, which allows you to search by location, specific health service needs, and/or transportation requirements.

Rachel Bocchino is the IDB Social Media Outreach Intern for STI Education.  She attends the College of the Holy Cross, is a Classics Major/Chemistry Minor and in the Pre-Health Program.  She will graduate in 2014.