Just like the original health center movement in the 1960s, Western North Carolina Community Health Services (WNCCHS) was created during the 1990s in the spirit of community activism.
In 1993 a group of community activists led by Carlos Gomez, Minnie Jones, and Dr. Polly Ross formed WNCCHS, an organization that met the definition of a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). The idea was to use local resources with those provided by the federal government to FQHCs.
Carlos Gomez, the current CEO of WNCCHS, said he admired Minnie Jones’ commitment to providing care to as many patients as possible.
“Our co-founder, Minnie Jones, was a fierce advocate for the underprivileged,” Gomez said. “She really felt passionately about injustice. It didn’t matter who it was.”
In April 1994, the Kenilworth Wellness Center opened as a daytime health program for people with AIDS at the Kenilworth Presbyterian Church in Asheville.
WNCCHS then received funding in March 1995 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act (formerly known as the Ryan White Care Act). WNCCHS used this funding to provide comprehensive HIV medical care for people in 17 counties in western North Carolina.
During the late 1990s and through the following decade, the WNCCHS system expanded to reach more uninsured and underinsured patients.
In April of 1996, the Minnie Jones Family Center opened at Pisgah View Apartments, Buncombe County’s largest public housing community. About 400 patients had visited the center by the end of that year.
Another health center was built and opened its doors during November 1998. The 4,000-square-foot Ridgelawn Health Center began serving all types of patients, regardless of their diagnosis. About 1,000 patients received care at the center by the end of that year.
In 2002, WNCCHS received designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike, allowing the organization to serve about 2,000 patients that year.
WNCCHS also received community health center funding from the HRSA’s Bureau of Primary Health Care in 2007. During that year, WNCCHS cared for about 4,000 patients.
In January of 2010, WNCCHS began a partnership with Buncombe County government to provide comprehensive primary health care to low-income county residents.
WNCCHS also moved into the Minnie Jones Health Center, named after one of WNCCHS’ co-founders, in Asheville that year.
Today, WNCCHS provides care to more than 15,000 low income, under/uninsured residents of Buncombe County and provides comprehensive HIV services to more than 700 low-income HIV-positive individuals residing in an 18-county service area of western North Carolina.
Scott Parker, director of development and collaboration for WNCCHS, said the area’s health centers continue to build a legacy that improves local residents’ health while promoting equality.
“WNCCHS has not only provided high quality, sustainable health care for the underserved in our community, but we have always strived to help address issues of social justice among the population we serve,” Parker said.