It’s no surprise to those who work in public health that retailers have not been able to succeed in the primary care landscape. Although their intentions may be genuine, retailers are in the business of making money, but that’s not exactly how it often works in healthcare, especially when it comes to providing primary care to Florida’s most vulnerable populations.

While retailers like Walmart and Walgreens may provide convenience and, in some cases, affordability, their recent decisions to back away from providing primary care indicate they are not prepared for the low margins and reimbursement challenges that make providing this level of care at scale a zero-profit game. So, how have Community Health Centers been able to make it work for so long?

For more than 50 years, Community Health Centers have focused on and excelled at providing primary care for the whole person. CHCs take a holistic approach to healthcare, considering not only a patient’s physical health but also their mental health, social needs, and other factors that impact their overall well-being. This approach allows CHCs to provide personalized care, addressing the root causes of the patient’s health problems rather than simply treating the symptoms.

Another advantage Community Health Centers have over retailers is their team-based approach to care. CHCs typically have a team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists, who work together to provide coordinated care. This approach ensures that patients receive the proper care at the right time and can avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Community Health Centers are also better equipped to serve vulnerable populations, such as low-income or uninsured individuals and those with chronic medical conditions. These populations often require more than just sporadic, basic medical care; they need consistent access to social services, behavioral health care, and other support services. CHCs are able to provide these services due to their connections throughout the communities they serve and their partnerships with local resources, like food banks that retailers cannot.

Community Health Centers, a product of the civil rights movement in America, have been the prevailing model for providing integrated primary

care to the most vulnerable – the low-income and uninsured for decades. They are the largest and one of the most vital parts of the country’s health care safety net, providing services to the nation’s uninsured and underserved populations regardless of their ability to pay while ensuring everyone has access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. Working with tight margins, CHCs have found innovative ways to expand access to healthcare, especially in rural areas, by utilizing mobile health units and telehealth services within this integrated healthcare approach.

In the end, what makes Community Health Centers better equipped to provide primary care to disadvantaged populations is their passion for what they do and the communities they serve – the same communities in which they live. Those who work in CHCs understand financial resources are necessary, but their accumulation is not the goal. They serve each and every day to make a difference in people’s lives. Ultimately, retailers are learning a valuable lesson – providing high-quality, affordable primary care is not as easy as it looks – never has been, never will be.