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History of Health Centers

Health centers in the United States began providing care to the underserved in the mid-1960s. Two leading advocates, H. Jack Geiger and Count D. Gibson, Jr, founded the first health center, American Community Health Center, more than half a century ago.  Before health centers began caring for the underserved, low-income, and uninsured, people went without health care and services to keep them well.  For those who were able to find a health care provider, services may have lacked quality or cost more than they could afford.

Health centers coincided with the social justice movement of the day, dubbed the “War On Poverty” by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In order to improve the lives of those who faced economic hardship, poor housing, menial jobs, and low wages, health centers served as a place that could provide some equity—health equity. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which was a pioneer state for health centers, became one of the premier models. Throughout the years, health centers have expanded from a few small health centers on the east coast to over 1200 health centers across the U.S. including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and territories such as Guam.

Health centers have emerged as the driving force of health equity and quality care for underserved and disadvantaged populations. As the U.S. continues to diversify, health centers have implemented culturally and  linguistically competent care models to address the needs of special populations such as residents of public housing, immigrants, refugees, homeless, veterans, and many other groups that may need unique care and  services. Health centers are comprehensive primary care facilities, which offer services beyond the routine medical visit such as dental, behavioral health, enabling services, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacological  and vision services.

 Dr. Geiger had a career in human and health equality. As a physician-activist, he was a proponent of social justice and an active voice in the health center movement in the U.S. He served as one of the founders  of the first health center ever established and worked as a professor and administrator at institutes of higher education such as the SUNY-Stonybrook School of Medicine, Tufts University Medical School, City  University of New York Medical School, and as a Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Geiger co-founded human rights organizations such as the Physicians for Human Rights, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other organizations that focused on health equality both domestically and internationally. Although Dr. Geiger is retired today, he continues to advocate for the underserved.