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Nonprofit women's health centers better serve poor and vulnerable women than for-profit centers

As of 1994, an estimated 3,600 women's health centers were in operation in the United States. The majority of centers provide outpatient services only, and some offer a mix of outpatient and inpatient services, including primary care, reproductive health services, breast imaging/cancer services, maternity/birth services, and various other services. These centers serve about 14.5 million women, 7.8 million of whom use the centers as their usual source of care. According to a recent study comparing for-profit and nonprofit centers, nonprofit centers do a better job of serving the needs of disadvantaged women than for-profit centers. This research was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09328).

Nonprofit centers serve larger proportions of uninsured women and rural women, and they offer reduced rates to more clients based on financial need. They also offer a broader range of primary care services, provide clinicians with more frequent training, and are more likely to involve consumers and women in center governance than for-profit centers.

Center ownership apparently does not affect services to women enrolled in Medicaid and minority women or provision of transportation or language translation services to clients, according to the researchers. They used data from the 1994 National Survey of Women's Health Centers on 108 for-profit centers and 296 nonprofit centers to examine the association between center ownership and community benefits.

Overall, the centers served substantial proportions of underserved women and provided a range of services. The average primary care/reproductive health center provided 23 out of the 37 primary care services examined. More than half of all centers offered translator services; provided training for physicians, nurses, or other clinicians; and had one or more consumers on their governing boards. Also, the average center provided five out of ten education/information services at no cost to clients. The threat to the survival of women's health centers from managed care may limit women's access to care, particularly women who use such centers as their usual source of care.

More details are in "Ownership type and community benefits of women's health centers," by Amal J. Khoury, Ph.D., M.P.H., Carol S. Weisman, and Chad M. Jarjoura, in the March 2001 Medical Care Research and Review 58(1), pp. 76-99.

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