1. What Is An AHEC?
Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) were begun by the federal government in the late 1970's as programs designed to address health manpower distribution through community based initiatives.
AHECs are administered by a school of medicine, which is the program office, and subcontracts with remote centers from the medical school. Each center must be a 501(c)3 entity, governed by a Board of Directors representing the region surrounding the center. A program office may receive a maximum of twelve years of federal seed funding while the centers are eligible for six years of funding. The program office administers a multidisciplinary academic consortium that includes one or more nursing schools and schools of other health professions, such as allied health and social work.
The federal government, through competitive grants, makes seed monies available to establish AHEC programs and centers. The intent is to provide sufficient dollars to build the infrastructure and to build a case for state support assuming the activities and accomplishments are of value to the communities served by the AHEC.
Communities are the heart of AHEC. The centers are governed by a community Board of Directors who live in and represent the region served. These community boards identify the needs and priorities for health care professionals in their region within the scope of the broad AHEC objectives. The AHEC employees live in the center's region and are employees of the Board of Directors rather than of the academic partner. A minimum of 75% of all federal dollars awarded must be subcontracted directly to the centers, with the remaining financial oversight and to develop institutional support and linkages needed by the committee.
The AHEC program in Georgia was begun by the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) in 1984 with the establishment of two centers, the Atlanta AHEC (serving three metropolitan counties) and the Tuskeegee AHEC in Alabama. The Atlanta AHEC was changed to become the Southeastern Primary Care Consortium AHEC (SPCC-AHEC) . The second center, the CHEP- AHEC, was begun in 1987 serving 39 counties in central and southeast Georgia. The second center was later renamed the Magnolia Coastlands AHEC.
The Southwest Georgia (SOWEGA) AHEC was established in 1990 and serves 38 counties. The Three Rivers AHEC, established in 1994, serves 28 counties in west central Georgia.
Augusta University (then the Medical College of Georgia), in partnership with Mercer University School of Medicine, received a grant in 1996 to operate as a federally funded AHEC. This funding has supported the development of centers in northwest and northeast Georgia as well as overseeing the maturation of the Three Rivers AHEC. The Blue Ridge AHEC in northwest Georgia serves 20 counties. Foothills AHEC, established in 1999, serves 31 counties in northeast Georgia.