Objective: We explore the role of consumer trustees in decision-making as community health centers (CHCs) work to navigate the tension between pursuing their mission to provide primary care to all regardless of ability to pay and maintaining their limited finances.
Methods: We interviewed 30 trustees from 16 CHCs in 14 different states, asking extensively about decision-making processes at their CHC related to services and finances, as well as perceived advantages and disadvantages of consumer governance.
Results: Respondents described mission-dominant, margin-dominant, and balanced decision-making philosophies, and different decision-making pathways for service provision and finances. Consumer trustees were lauded for their role in informing the board of service quality and community needs, but criticized for being professionally unskilled and exhibiting a lack of objective decision-making.
Conclusions: While CHC boards do play a role in navigating the tension between mission and margin, executive directors and staff appear to be more influential.