Health Matters: Celebrating Our Healthcare Heroes

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August 2018

Did you know MCHC Health Centers cares for more than 45 percent of the population in Mendocino County? It’s true! We’re here to help ensure that local people have access to essential healthcare services because we know that in rural communities like ours, finding a doctor who can see you in a timely manner is becoming more and more difficult—and getting access to a specialist can feel almost impossible.

In honor of National Health Center Week (August 12 – 18), I want to acknowledge the people who make community-based healthcare possible. They do heroic work, not just locally, but across the nation, serving 27 million Americans a year.  

The clinicians here at MCHC are well-trained, thoughtful, efficient and compassionate. They often take on additional responsibilities to ensure that community needs are met.

For instance, all of us have seen the effects of the sprawling and difficult problem of mental illness in our communities: law enforcement is taken away from urgent duties, while emergency rooms are becoming mental health providers. Physician Assistant Larry Aguirre decided to make a difference. He sought additional training and experience in psychiatric care at UC Davis. He enhanced his skills to provide better care for common illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and more. Larry brought this new knowledge home to our healthcare teams, improving treatment expertise across our organization. His new skills significantly improve patients’ health, while also quietly touching my life and your life, while supporting the effectiveness of local agencies.

Nurse practitioner Xochilt Morales de Martinez is another hero. She saw that the mental health resources for the Spanish-speaking community were sadly lacking, so she pursued a master’s degree in nursing. Further, she became a Marriage and Family Therapist and a certificated psychiatric nurse practitioner. As a bilingual, bicultural health professional, Xochilt works primarily with Latino families and individuals to overcome barriers to treatment. “I encourage people to come talk to me so I can make sure they have the correct information to make the right decisions for their family. I’m not here to judge. I’m just here to help,” she said.

Specialty care for the children living in our area is meager. Cindi Mockel, a family nurse practitioner specializing in pediatrics, has advanced training in pediatric cardiac care and works closely with physicians at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University physicians to ensure excellent care for children with heart problems. She is a nationally recognized expert in pediatric obesity, and sits on the Pediatric Committee of the Obesity Medical Association. At MCHC, Cindi runs a pediatric obesity clinic in conjunction with Patrika Tsai, M.D. of the UCSF Pediatric Watch Clinic. She is currently working on achieving her Board certification in Obesity Medicine.

For many of our healthcare heroes, work doesn’t end when they leave our health centers. Justin Ebert, PA, volunteers for the Redwood Valley Fire Department. Nurse practitioner Chris Ayeko also serves as CEO of Hands for Global Health, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health and welfare of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. To combat opioid addiction in our communities, MCHC’s Chief Medical Officer participates in SafeRx, a successful opioid reduction program in both Lake and Mendocino Counties.

Other, behind-the-scenes heroes often go unnoticed: the facilities maintenance team, billing department staff, the people who manage the ever-more-challenging digital environment, our nurses and case managers, receptionists and patient financial services staff, the people who answer our phones when someone calls. I could go on. It truly takes everyone.

Day after day, at every level of our organization, the people I work with demonstrate the selflessness, strength of purpose and caring that define a hero. I offer each of them my gratitude.

Carole Press is the CEO of MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.

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