Claire Heyden Burson with patients in the community

Opened in 1963, Blue Ridge Community Health Services (BRCHS) has its roots in providing migrant farm workers with health care. In fact, Blue Ridge is the nation’s oldest migrant health center and today provides medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, and outreach services to all at twelve locations.

“We started more than 50 years ago as a migrant health center and, about 25 years ago, we became a community health center. Though we remain proud to serve over 3,000 migrant farmworkers and their families each year, they represent only about 10 percent of our total population today,” says Jennifer Henderson, BRCHS CEO.

The Migrant Health Center was started by Claire Heyden Burson, a Public Health nurse who had moved to Hendersonville after spending time working in the Caribbean. She and her colleagues and friends worked together to staff the early center. It was a time when farm worker rights were being noticed. When President John Kennedy signed the Migrant Health Act into law in 1962, the Migrant Health Center could receive federal funds.

“In the 20 years with Barbara Garrison at the helm, Blue Ridge saw the transformation of the migrant health center to a year-round health center open to the entire community,” recalls Henderson. That was in 1987, a full-time family practice, followed by a pediatric practice in 1992 and a dental clinic for children in 1995.

Eventually Blue Ridge Community Health Services would add dental services for adults in 2005 and behavioral health services in 2006 and an on-site pharmacy in 2009.

In 1993, Blue Ridge Community Health Services opened the first school-based health center (SBHC) in Henderson County, providing students access to comprehensive nursing, medical, behavioral health and nutrition services. In 2008, three additional SBHCs opened at two elementary schools and a high school, providing health care for over 2,000 students. In 2013, five additional schools were linked to existing SBHCS, providing access to more than 6,000 students in Henderson County.

In 2009, Blue Ridge Community Health Services began planning for the construction of a new medical facility, which opened in late 2011. The state-of-the art building serves as the medical home to thousands of individuals and houses family medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, on-site pharmacy, lab and radiology. Dental services and administrative offices reside in a separate building also located on the campus.

In October 2012, Blue Ridge Community Health Services opened a second site, the Brevard Health Center in Brevard, N.C. Then, in 2013, Blue Ridge Community Health Services assumed the operations of Hendersonville Family Health Center as part of a partnership with Pardee Hospital and Mountain Area Health Education Center Family Practice Residency to establish the first Health Resource Services Administration-funded teaching health center in North Carolina. Two additional sites – the Rutherford Health Center in Rutherford County and the Arden Health Center in Buncombe County were opened in 2014.

“I think working under the Blue Ridge mission really speaks to my desire to give something back and contribute to making a better community,” said Henderson. “And community health centers are extraordinary in what they can do to improve a community overall.”

CEO Jennifer Henderson is proudest of Blue Ridge Community Health Services because of the strong positive impact it is having on the community.

“We are really continuing a long legacy of making a difference in the communities that we serve. This latest eight year chapter of our history has seen this great organization triple the number of people served in western NC from 9,000 people to over 27,000 people a year.”


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