Online community helps clinics collaborate

In California, the federal health reform’s vision for expanding access to care for low-income people will depend largely on hundreds of community clinics around the state that often operate on a shoestring and are facing cutbacks in state and foundation funding.

At the same time, many of these clinics are dealing with increased demand for their services because of the lingering effects of the economic recession and high levels of unemployment.

One way they can cope is to collaborate to share stories and solutions. And many do, in an online community known as the Community Clinic Voice.

Debra Farmer, President/CEO of Westside Family Health Center in Santa Monica, strives to keep up on what other safety net organizations around the state are doing.

“I’m a big believer in adopting and adapting proven strategies and in not reinventing the wheel,” Farmer says.

Farmer is an example of what makes this online community so useful: members who share their expertise and learn from each other. She serves as a Discussion Host and helped build the Voice’s peer-reviewed library of recommended resources. She says the Community Clinic Voice (the Voice) is a great professional development tool for her entire staff.

The Voice
, is a free, online gathering place for health care safety net professionals and others working to eliminate disparities and build healthier communities. Members say they value the Voice for the sense of community and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues around the state. How does it work?

A tribal group wishing to begin its own primary care operation in Northern California recently posted a request on the Voice for assistance in all phases of start-up. Before long, a member from the CA Rural Indian Health Board responded with “how to’s” on state licensing & certification, while other members chimed in with recommendations on EHRs in use by other tribal clinics, how to order discounted supplies and equipment, and more.

“The Voice is remarkable for how willingly members share information, tools and resources that really help each other improve care for their communities,” says Melissa Schoen, Senior Program Officer, Innovations for the Underserved, at the California HealthCare Foundation. With support from the Foundation, the Voice last year undertook a redesign to make the site easier to use, expanding the library of sample forms, polices and procedures, and the like, and offering educational discussions hosted by expert guest speakers.

The Voice is largely managed by its members, who are engaged in building the community through an advisory committee, editorial review board, “welcome wagon,” discussion hosts, and more. Groups can establish designated areas to organize special projects.

The Voice is long-lived, as online communities go. It began in 2001 as a benefit for grantees of the Community Clinics Initiative, a project of Tides and The California Endowment. Voice membership has grown to well over 2,000 and is expanding to include participants throughout the U.S., as well as partners outside of health centers. Voice members include executive directors, health care providers, Finance , IT, Operations and Development professionals, and many others.

So how will the Voice celebrate its tenth anniversary next year? With an in-person members meeting to plan for the next ten years.

Everyone is welcome to view the public sections of the Voice. Those with an interest in community health are invited to register for a free membership by clicking the “Join” link at:

If you work with groups that might be interested in the Voice, please share the above link. There is no cost to join or use the Voice.

For more information, contact community manager Sue Dormanen,

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