Community health centers are the backbone of equity in our healthcare system | Guest column

  • Wednesday, April 6, 2022 1:48pm
  • Opinion

By Sen. Manka Dhingra and Lisa Yohalem

After two years on the frontlines of pandemic response, our health care system has taken a beating. Providers such as community health centers have felt serious impacts on their workforce and finances. While federal emergency funds helped keep clinic doors open, a booster was desperately needed. Recognizing the problem, the Washington State Legislature recently delivered key investments to strengthen the system and advance health equity.

These investments recognize the vital role our health care safety net plays in protecting our communities, particularly for vulnerable populations that are often disproportionately affected and have less access to care. Community health centers such as HealthPoint, with clinics throughout east and south King County, went into hyperdrive when the pandemic hit, expanding telehealth and prescription delivery services and opening COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.

As trusted members of their communities, these health centers were able to partner with a broad range of local groups to provide education, address hesitancy, and vaccinate community members. Using an equity lens, they worked with schools, faith-based organizations, public health districts, community centers, fire departments, businesses and other organizations to reach as many people as possible.

While community health centers were able to transform their care delivery virtually overnight, their payment models weren’t as easy to adjust during the crisis. We discovered state funding was inadvertently disrupting community health centers’ finances, either through payment shortages or when “normal times” metrics couldn’t be met due to emergency shutdowns, safety measures or patient hesitancy.

On the positive side, the pandemic helped shine a light on health equity. In the long term, prioritizing the health of those who have historically been underserved will require building on the strengths of community health centers. Our Legislature’s commitment to health equity is more than just talk, and that’s why this year’s state budget delivered funding to ensure the ongoing financial stability of these crucial community assets.

With a budget that puts people first, the Legislature also invested in behavioral health care, addressed dental care shortages for low-income patients by funding construction of new dental clinics, and expanded health coverage to all uninsured adults below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status.

We can’t talk about health and well-being in our communities without talking about affordable housing. Stable, safe housing is essential to ensuring good health. To that end, the Legislature established a program to provide housing benefits to people enrolled in Medicaid who have medical risk factors that increase the barriers to finding stable housing.

The strong history of our state’s commitment to community health stood us in good stead; even though we had the first COVID outbreak in the country, Washington has the 5th lowest COVID-related death rate of any state. This legislative session affirms our commitment to maintaining a strong health care safety net and achieving health equity for all.

Manka Dhingra is deputy majority leader in the Washington State Senate and represents the 45th Legislative District.

Lisa Yohalem is the CEO of HealthPoint, a non-profit community-based network of health centers dedicated to providing high-quality health care to all who need it, regardless of circumstances.

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
Supreme Court’s draft to overturn Roe v. Wade sparks uproar in WA | Roegner

The Supreme Court appeared divided and also shaken by its private deliberations… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
Behind the appointment of King County’s new sheriff | Roegner

King County Executive Dow Constantine had three finalists to choose from when… Continue reading

Avi Goodman. Courtesy of EvergreenHealth.
Understanding and treating arthritis

By Avi Goodman, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at EvergreenHealth Orthopedic & Sports Care… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at
Roe v. Wade and the road we have been down before | Whale’s Tales

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Prohibition Era in… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at
Never miss a chance to treasure your mama | Whale’s Tales

With the approach of Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot lately… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
Did we end the mask mandate too soon in WA? | Roegner

Philadelphia recently became the first U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask… Continue reading

Code Purple Team photo. Courtesy of Sandra Maffeo.
LWHS Robotics attend World Championship in Texas

The team was invited to compete in Houston, TX from April 20 to 23.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at
Seattle World’s Fair highlighted electric transportation network | Brunell

Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair was awe-inspiring. It previewed developments that would improve… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
Lawsuit may have chilling effect on effort to reduce homelessness | Roegner

Responding to the regional homeless challenge isn’t easy and comes with its… Continue reading