The Community Health Center of Burlington has officially opened the doors to its new $11 million facility.
The center is part of a national effort to provide primary health care service to millions of people across the country.
There was an air of celebration at the Health Center on Monday as officials gathered to cut the ribbon on the new facility.
The two-story, green and brown building resembles a small modern hospital. Inside are large waiting areas and private examination rooms where patients receive primary and dental care, and mental health and substance abuse services.
Executive Director Jack Donnelly says the Burlington health center has a very specific mission:
"We see those with insurance and those without," Donnelly said. "But first and foremost we remain the safety net provider for many who receive their primary medical, dental and behavioral health care at CHCB."
And Donnelly says the center provides these services to over 14,000 patients each year.
"Approximately 70 percent of our patients have incomes at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level," he said. "Ten percent are refugees settled in Burlington from other countries. And most of those patients need interpreters. Twenty percent of our patients have no insurance either medical or dental."
The expansion of these "Federally Qualified Community Health Centers" has been a top priority for Senator Bernie Sanders and there are now roughly 200 centers across the country. The eight Vermont facilities provide services to more than 120,000 people.
Sanders is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on primary care and he wants to double the number of centers nationwide in the next few years.
"We are saving taxpayers’ money because when people walk into this facility it cost about 10 percent of what it costs to go to the emergency room," he said. "And we’re providing a medical home for people for their long term primary health care needs."
Sanders says these patients also have access to affordable prescription drugs through a special Medicaid discount program. He says this is critical because many people don’t take their drugs on a regular basis because of the cost:
"Doctors write prescriptions for their patients and what happens ? Their patients can’t afford to fill those prescriptions and what we’re doing here is providing the lowest cost prescription drug program in America," Sanders said.
Sanders says the expansion of these federal health centers will be essential to ensure that all people have access to high quality primary care in the future.