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.