In value-based settings, community health centers find partnering is key

Read how these small health centers can join with others to meet the unique challenges of caring for some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations

by Katie Coleman, MSPH, Research Associate, The MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Kaiser Permanente WA Health Research Institute’s MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation is excited to announce the release of our newest model in “Partnering to Succeed: How Small Health Centers Can Improve Care and Thrive Under Value Based Payment,” a California Health Care Foundation report developed in partnership with JSI Research & Training Institute.

Our report outlines the core features and strategies small health centers need to flourish while providing great care in a changing, value-based health care environment. “Partnering to Succeed” represents a significant extension of the work the MacColl Center has prioritized since its founding, and we are proud to be a part of its creation alongside national partners and thought leaders in the field of primary care.

We know primary care plays a crucial role as the backbone of a high functioning health system, and community health centers (CHC) provide much needed care to millions of people across this country, CHCs are also laboratories for creative problem-solving from issues ranging from how to utilize staff in expanded roles to implementing unique strategies for addressing social need, to leveraging local context to solve community-specific health problems, all of which allow them to better serve a growing population and address the rising burden of chronic disease nationally.

MacColl has been privileged to learn from the best leaders in primary care transformation over the decades, working with CHCs and their partners through a variety of groundbreaking and foundational initiatives (Health Disparities Collaboratives (PDF), Safety Net Medical Home Initiative, Primary Care Team Guide) to radically redesign care and improve patient health. But even vanguard health systems struggle to sustain the work they do when improving care, including securing reimbursement for population health, referral coordination, and medication management conducted by non-provider team members. That’s why the report focus on ways to succeed not only clinically but financially as well.

For small health centers, defined here as those with fewer than 10,000 patients or an operating budget of $10 million or less, these challenges are even greater. No one organization can build all the infrastructure necessary — from data sophistication to workforce to strategies — to improve and sustain care. For most practices, seeking out and pursuing partnerships is a growing requirement for success. Partnerships can range from linking with local or regional hospitals to improve access to data and data sharing or connecting with Management Service Organizations that can assist with human resource duties and facilitate negotiations for incentive payments.

In a time of great change for community health centers, this report provides clear guidance and a road map on what activities and infrastructures are necessary to deliver great care sustainably. Health centers can build on their long experience with community partners, to leverage creative new relationships, serve their unique patient populations, respond to community needs, and thrive.


Katie Coleman

Katie Coleman, MSPH, is a research associate at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute’s MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation. She designs, implements, and evaluates large-scale practice transformation projects including a national effort to support value-based pay and improved primary and behavioral health care across states; an initiative to create patient centered medical homes in 65 safety net practices; and the first state-based alternative payment and care model learning community for federally qualified health centers.

In addition, Ms. Coleman has coached teams and led learning collaboratives around payment reform and practice transformation in California, Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Colorado, and has conducted practice coach training in these states and others. She is also the Co-Lead of the Learning Health System program within Kaiser Permanente Washington, which seeks to leverage content, methods, and data to better inform health care delivery — and patient and staff experience to better inform research.