Michael Holmes, chief executive officer of Northern Minnesota's Scenic Rivers Health Services, has assumed the role of board chair of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

Community Health Centers provide nearly 30 million Americans with affordable health care, specifically focusing on populations and communities that are medically underserved and uninsured. The NACHC board sets policy for the association, plus determines advocacy efforts and works to improve services.

Holmes, who is based in Cook, became NACHC chair-elect two years ago, and was treasurer of the association for five years. Scenic Rivers, formerly known as Cook Area Health Services, has grown to have six medical clinics and four dental clinics that serve 13,000 northern Minnesotans since Holmes took the helm more than 40 years ago. There are clinics in Big Falls, Bigfork, Cook, Floodwood, Northome and Tower.

“Thousands of Minnesotans have benefited meaningfully as a direct result of Mike’s decades-long leadership in Minnesota, through their access to robust primary care services at Scenic Rivers Health Services,” Jonathan Watson, CEO of the Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, said in a news release. “Additionally, Mike has been a constant policy advocate for health centers and their patients, in both Washington D.C. and Minnesota’s capital. He is a trusted collaborator to all health centers throughout the state, in their collective missions to serve low-income populations.”

Holmes noted the extensive work done by Community Health Centers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including administering just under 14 million vaccinations, primarily to racially and ethnically diverse populations.

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“The health centers, especially the health centers in Minnesota, have had a huge impact on getting COVID vaccinations to populations of color or to patients in areas that don’t have ready access to health care services,” he said. "We’re trying to be flexible and learn on the fly, and also trying to get vaccinations to critical patient populations that may not have ready access to larger health systems or the hospitals, which do an amazing job in delivering COVID vaccines. But with vaccine hesitancy within certain population groups or certain areas, I think local access to vaccinations are really important as we work through our COVID environment.”

Despite the decrease in patients seen nationally for primary care visits during the pandemic, Holmes said Community Health Centers saw an increase in rural patients seeking care.

“As we see hospital closures across the country, particularly in rural areas, health centers are there as a safety net to try and provide access to care for patient populations,” he said.

Holmes will serve as NACHC board chair for a two-year term.