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Keywords:

  • community health centers;
  • consumer governance;
  • qualitative research;
  • rural

Abstract

Context: Community health centers (CHCs) are primary care clinics that serve mostly low-income patients in rural and urban areas. They are required to be governed by a consumer majority. What little is known about the structure and function of these boards in practice suggests that CHC boards in rural areas may look and act differently from CHC boards in urban areas.

Purpose: To identify differences in the structure and function of consumer governance at CHCs in rural and urban areas.

Methods: Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted with 30 CHC board members from 14 different states. Questions focused on board members’ perceptions of board composition and the role of consumers on the board.

Findings: CHCs in rural areas are more likely to have representative boards, are better able to convey confidence in the organization, and are better able to assess community needs than CHCs in urban areas. However, CHCs in rural areas often have problems achieving objective decision-making, and they may have fewer means for objectively evaluating quality of care due to the lack of patient board member anonymity.

Conclusions: Consumer governance is implemented differently in rural and urban communities, and the advantages and disadvantages in each setting are unique.