Inaugurating its new research brief series on health centers and health policy, the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services estimates that a $250 million appropriations increase in the community health centers program would yield health care for an additional 1.8 million patients and a nationwide four-to-one return on investment.

The study, titled “How Does Investment in Community Health Centers Affect the Economy?” by Peter Shin, Brad Finnegan and Sara Rosenbaum of The George Washington University, concludes that such an appropriations increase would provide substantial economic gains: nearly $1 billion in direct benefits measured in new revenues; and more than $1.1 billion in indirect benefits, including 24,000 jobs and other community investments. On a state-by-state basis, each $1 million in federal appropriations would assure care for an additional 8,400 patients and bring a six-to-one rate of return, or over $6 million in direct and indirect economic benefits.

“With the current economic downturn, policy-makers are understandably focused on producing short-term gains in hard-hit communities, but there is also a need for longer-term investment strategies,” said Dan Hawkins, senior vice president for Policy and Programs for the National Association of Community Health Centers. “This important study shows that investments in community health centers not only promote access to care for those most in need, but also save taxpayers’ money while also stabilizing and stimulating the local economy in a measurable and enduring way.”

Community health centers are local, nonprofit, community-governed health care clinics that provide comprehensive care to low income and medically underserved populations. In 2006, more than 1,000 federally funded health centers served more than 15 million people in 6,300 of the nation’s poorest urban and rural communities, which are particularly affected during economic downturns because of their vulnerability to eroding financial conditions. New investments in health centers to expand their services and locations must be implemented in 90 days under federal guidelines, making health center investment a rapid means of infusing funds into local economies.

“The Collaborative’s new research series seeks to help policy-makers understand the significant forces that influence community health centers and their patients, as well as the ways in which health centers affect the communities they serve,” said Feygele Jacobs, chief operating officer of the RCHN Community Health Foundation.