Dusty Hillman, service coordinator at the school-based health center at Brewer Community School, talks about the services available, which include dental care, in this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo. Credit: Gabor Degre

On any given morning in Maine, waiting rooms are filling up with people in desperate need of medical care. An older woman, on Medicare, in need of a flu shot; a young family, new in town, looking for a provider that takes dad’s new insurance; a couple with no health coverage waiting to see someone for their chronic conditions; a young person, struggling with life’s challenges, working hard to get back on track.

And on every morning in Maine, the nearly 2,000 staff in more than 70 rural and Community Health Centers are there to greet, support and provide comprehensive primary care to anyone who walks through the door — regardless of health insurance status or ability to pay. With a network that reaches north to Fort Kent, south to the Berwicks, east to Lubec and west to Rangeley, Maine’s Community Health Centers care for more than 210,000 Maine people each year. That’s 1 in 6 Maine people who rely on Community Health Centers for their medical needs.

Our health centers play an important role as Maine’s health care safety net, but they are also providers of choice in their communities, providing high quality care and saving money at the same time. MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, costs are 24 percent lower at health centers, resulting in more than $110 million in savings in 2017.

Maine is the most rural state in the country and the oldest state in the country. It also happens to be the best state in the country. Our small towns are the backbone of the state — spread out over the landscape, based around natural resources, dotted by small businesses and filled with historic buildings and homes. Our rural communities need these health care services just as much as their people do.

Maine’s Community Health Centers provide both the annual economic benefit of more than $400 million in jobs, health care and community spending and also provide an essential part of the infrastructure necessary to support thriving communities. Whether it’s welcoming visitors in all four seasons, caring for millworkers, farmers, foresters and fishermen and women, or working to attract new residents, health care is a necessity for strong communities.

Thursday is National Rural Health Day — a day set aside to celebrate resilient rural communities that are home to strong people, and most of all, the caring health care providers who work every day to keep them that way. Let’s all celebrate the power of rural.

Marge Kilkelly is the policy program manager at the Maine Primary Care Association.