(WAFB) - A little over 8 percent of Louisiana residents are going to health centers for their doctor visits, according to a new study from George Washington University. That number is up 86 percent since 2010, making it the largest increase in the nation.
"Month-to-month, we're seeing 300 to 350 new patients since healthcare expansion," said Open Health Care Director of Clinical Services Leigha Andrews.
She attributes the growth to the increase in insured patients after the Affordable Care Act passed and Louisiana expanded Medicaid. "When we expanded healthcare here in the state, access to services for patients who need it has increased exponentially," she said. "About 60 percent of our patients here are Medicaid patients."
But the higher numbers also reflect a problem for the state.
"Unfortunately, our state is very low income with very poor health outcomes," said Louisiana Primary Care Association's Ryan Sinitiere. "The need is real and a lot of folks need assistance."
Sinitiere says that's why community health centers are important, and that it's nice for the state to be on top of a good list. "This is keeping folks out of the emergency room, which is most important for people's health and especially the economy, so it's a very good thing that more people are using health centers," he said.
There are around 250 of these federally-funded centers in Louisiana that have generated about $567 million for the state in economic impact.
"In order to work, you have to feel good," Sinitiere said. "You have to be healthy."
Community health centers also keep medical professionals employed in rural areas without large clinics or hospitals.
About 178,000 more Louisianans are using community health centers than in 2010. The study found a nationwide increase in patients with an average of 60,000 more in each state.
Mississippi and Wyoming were the only two states to see decreases in health center visitors.