In 2001, community health center (CHC) leaders in Oregon established an organization to facilitate the integration of health information technology, including a shared electronic health record (EHR), into safety net clinics. The Oregon Community Health Information Network (shortened to OCHIN as other states joined) became a CHC information technology hub, supporting a network-wide EHR with one master patient index, now linked across >40 safety net organizations serving >900,000 patients with nearly 800,000 distinct CHC visits. Recognizing the potential of OCHIN's multiclinic network and comprehensive EHR database for conducting safety net-based research, OCHIN leaders and local researchers formed the Safety Net West practice-based research network (PBRN). The Safety Net West "community- based laboratory," based at OCHIN, is positioned to become an important resource for many studies including: evaluation of the real-time impact of health care reform on uninsured populations; development of new models of primary care delivery; dissemination and translation of interventions from other EHR-based systems (e.g., Kaiser Permanente) into the community health setting; and analyses of factors influencing disparities in health and health care access. We describe the founding of Safety Net West, its infrastructure development, current projects, and the future goals of this community-based PBRN with a common EHR.