National Health Center Week just wrapped up, but what is a health center and how is it different than a clinic? According to Dr. Troy Harden, the co-medical director for Lawton Community Health Center, health centers have been around for decades, and their goal is to provide access to quality healthcare for everyone throughout all stages of their lives.

“Those can even be migrant workers, various people, homeless,” he said. “All of those things are part of the mandate of a federally qualified community health center.”

Dr. Harden said a traditional clinic works on insurance and has a set fee, and while health centers also accept insurance, they also have a sliding scale fee.

“At a health center, your fee is based upon your income at least as good as we can do that,” Dr. Harden said. “And so you have a set fee, and you actually receive more for your value if you’re in that need that you are economically deprived.”

The Lawton Community Health Center started in 2008 after Comanche County was determined to be one of the 600 poorest counties in America.

“And there was an obvious shortage of family and primary care people which resulted in ERs and people trying to get their health care through an emergency room, visit which isn’t the best way to do that,” he said.

Because of the need, they now have 13 clinics in 6 communities. He said they have around 50 providers and 12 residents. Dr. Harden said it’s uncommon to have a residency associated with a federally qualified community health center, but it’s been good for multiple reasons.

“It’s been a boom to the residence that requires help and primary care,” he said. “It’s also been a boom to those patients because it’s increased their access to care.”

He said the resident, student, and attending physician are all looking it over.

“Not only do people get a chance to establish and see a primary care provider, but they also get access to a team and that team effort might involve their mental health, might involve their prescriptions, it might involve case management.”

Making sure people are getting cared for is something Dr. Harden is passionate about. He said he used to practice in a rural clinic and knows the challenges all too well.

“So, when I became associated with the federally qualified health center here in Lawton in 2014, I actually saw a place that I wished my patients had previously had access to,” Dr. Harden said. “I feel like the sky is the limit. I think we are here to stay, and I’m anticipating an improvement in our community health.”

Dr. Harden said after starting these centers, Comanche County was no longer on the top 20 list of inability to receive care.

To celebrate National Health Center Week, and all they’re doing in the community, they did things like collected items for a food drive and held a decorating contest.