What is Community Health?

four health care professionals shown from their neck up and smiling for the camera
Category: Industry Insights

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

Over the last decade, more and more people in the United States have started to receive a form of health care known as “community health.” The concept of community health has been around for a long time, but it was first embraced by the public in 1965, when the first community health center was established in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Since then, community health centers and community health as a concept has become increasingly important in people’s lives.

Although community health is similar in many ways to more traditional forms of health care, it differs in some critical areas. There are many examples and models for community health, often depending on public-private partnerships, subsidies, or volunteer work.

Here are some of the key characteristics of community health, as well as the major benefits it can offer.

Low-Cost Care for Community Members in Need

The primary way community health diverges from other forms of health care is it typically is offered free at the point of service or for a small fee. This was made possible by the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which provided grants for community health centers to open and continually offer services without depending on other forms of income or health insurance.

The reasons and benefits of this are many, but the main idea is to:

  1. Offer services and educational resources to community members who might struggle to afford them.
  2. Help communities raise their standards of health care, diet, and general well-being to head off more severe issues in the future.

However, this can create many challenges for community health providers, as they may find the grants insufficient for the needs of their community and seek out financial support from other sources, such as private and public donations, partnerships with local organizations, and volunteer labor from the community.

Combining Preventative and Reactive Care

The health care offered by doctors and other experts is typically a mix of preventative and reactive care, depending on the situation and the patient. However, because health care can be expensive and difficult to access for some, research has shown that preventative care is underutilized in the United States, leading to worse health outcomes.

Reactive care means seeing a doctor for a specific problem, such as an injury, illness or other issue. Preventative care is seeing a doctor or expert to head off the development of one of those issues, for example, routinely getting your blood pressure and other vitals checked to catch an illness before it progresses further.

Community health can help with this issue, giving community members a chance to talk about their issues and get a baseline of health information about themselves before seeking expert help from a doctor. A community health center can be an invaluable intermediate step before someone sees a doctor, allowing them to assess the risks of an issue and taking steps to prevent it rather than waiting until it is unavoidable and often harder to treat.

Holistic Health Care

Because community health has a broader mandate than traditional doctors – who are typically focused on diagnosis and treatment – community health centers often provide additional services aimed at enhancing overall health and wellbeing. Community health can involve things like education on diet and exercise, healthy cooking classes, yoga or other light fitness, as well as mental healthcare and resources.

Another key value is responding to the unique needs and characteristics of a specific community, which may involve offering translation services to immigrant communities, focusing on issues related to senior health and wellbeing if the community has many older members, or other characteristics. The key is expanding the definition of “health” beyond what most people think and giving them a holistic perspective on how they can be healthy throughout their lives.

Partnerships With Community Organizations

Along with a holistic approach to health, community health practitioners can create a network of local resources for community members to access when they need it. Because health is often impacted by life circumstances, issues like food insecurity, job loss, housing insecurity, or mental health issues can make treating health issues much more complex than simply diagnosing and curing them. A community health center can help steer at-risk community members toward social services, financial assistance, counseling, or other vital care.

Health Care Administration Education at CSU

Here at Columbia Southern University, students in our health care administration degree programs go on to a variety of careers. Community health is one of many topics covered in our bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and our master’s degree program in public health also has an available concentration in community health education.

For more information about all our online degree programs in health care administration, visit our website.

Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. CSU does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, eligibility for a position, or other career growth.