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Forging Successful AcademicCommunity Partnerships With Community Health Centers: The California Statewide Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Experience

Fowkes, Virginia FNP, MHS; Blossom, H. John MD; Mitchell, Brenda; Herrera-Mata, Lydia MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000069
Commentaries

Increased access to insurance under the Affordable Care Act will increase demands for clinical services in community health centers (CHCs). CHCs also have an increasingly important educational role to train clinicians who will remain to practice in community clinics. CHCs and Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) are logical partners to prepare the health workforce for the future. Both are sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration, and they share a mission to improve quality of care in medically underserved communities. AHECs emphasize the educational side of the mission, and CHCs the service side. Building stronger partnerships between them can facilitate a balance between education and service needs.

From 2004 to 2011, the California Statewide AHEC program and its 12 community AHECs (centers) reorganized to align training with CHC workforce priorities. Eight centers merged into CHC consortia; others established close partnerships with CHCs in their respective regions. The authors discuss issues considered and approaches taken to make these changes. Collaborative innovative processes with program leadership, staff, and center directors revised the program mission, developed common training objectives with an evaluation plan, and defined organizational, functional, and impact characteristics for successful AHECs in California. During this planning, centers gained confidence as educational arms for the safety net and began collaborations with statewide programs as well as among themselves. The AHEC reorganization and the processes used to develop, strengthen, and identify standards for centers forged the development of new partnerships and established academic–community trust in planning and implementing programs with CHCs.

Ms. Fowkes is senior research scholar emerita in family medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, and director of evaluation, California Statewide AHEC, University of California–San Francisco, Fresno campus, Fresno, California.

Dr. Blossom is professor emeritus of family and community medicine, and director, Statewide AHEC Program, University of California–San Francisco, Fresno campus, Fresno, California.

Ms. Mitchell is program manager, Statewide AHEC Program, University of California–San Francisco, Fresno campus, Fresno, California.

Dr. Herrera-Mata is assistant clinical professor and associate director, Statewide AHEC Program, University of California–San Francisco, Fresno campus, Fresno, California, and program director, Sierra Vista Family Medicine Residency Program, Fresno, California.

Funding/Support: This work was funded through HRSA, BHPR grant U77HPO3015. The contents here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of HRSA.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms. Fowkes, Center for Education and Research in Family and Community Medicine, Modular G, 1215 Welch Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94305; e-mail: vfowkes@stanford.edu.

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges