Abstract

Community health centers provide comprehensive public health care in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the United States. To ensure that health centers meet the needs of their consumers, they uniquely engage them in their organizational decision-making and policy-development processes by requiring that their boards of directors encompass a 51 percent consumer majority. To understand the quality of board members’ experiences, a critical ethnography was conducted using Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation and the socioecological model as a framework. The analysis identified multiple influences on the quality of participation among consumer members. Findings also confirm other research that has found that knowledge of the economic, political, and cultural factors surrounding the context of the individual health center is important to understanding meaningful participation. The experience is important to understand given the shift driven by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 in health care, which emphasizes a patient-centered model of care. Social work practitioners and others in the public health arena interested in empowering consumers to have a role in the provision of services need to understand the impact of each of these areas and the experience of this unique sample of health center board members.

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