The first community health centers: a model of enduring value

J Ambul Care Manage. Oct-Dec 2005;28(4):313-20. doi: 10.1097/00004479-200510000-00006.


Community health centers in the United States, first launched as a federal initiative in 1965, were rooted in models from South Africa, the American civil rights struggle, and a national commitment to address poverty. The first 2 centers, one serving a rural population in the Mississippi Delta and another a public housing project in Boston, incorporated such core principles as provision of primary care to a defined area or population; public health interventions addressing social determinants of health; emphasis on community participation; community empowerment leading to control of the new institutions; epidemiologic methods to identify problems and guide decisions; new combinations of clinical and public health personnel; and reduction of disparities in health and healthcare of the poor and minorities. The continuing relevance of these principles in today's greatly expanded health center network is reviewed.

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Centers / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Models, Organizational
  • Public Health
  • United States