We Welcome Health Care Reform and New Patients
While changes in health care seem daunting to some, Mendocino Community Health Clinic (MCHC) has been preparing for this shift for years. “Health care is moving away from emergency care and more toward prevention and wellness. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like ours are designed to keep people out of the Emergency Room by addressing health problems before they become a crisis,” said MCHC Chief Executive Officer Lin Hunter.
People sometimes confuse MCHC with Mendocino County services, but MCHC is a private, non-profit health organization with health centers in Ukiah (Hillside Health Center), Willits (Little Lake Health Center), and Lakeport (Lakeview Health Center). MCHC receives federal funding in return for providing primary health care including medical, dental, and behavioral health services to people, regardless of their ability of pay. Strict quality and efficiency measures require MCHC to adhere to demanding standards, and the shift in health care toward prevention and wellness is tailor made for the way MCHC delivers care.
MCHC uses a model called the Patient Centered Health Home, which emphasizes a team approach to care. Each medical patient has a doctor or provider, plus support staff like nurses and health educators to make sure appropriate care is provided every time.
MCHC’s medical department specializes primary care, including helping patients manage chronic diseases such as diabetes. They also have a nationally recognized program for treating HIV/AIDS. In the behavioral health department, patients receive support and treatment for common ailments like depression and anxiety, and children with behavioral health needs can see a board-certified child psychiatrist/pediatrician. MCHC’s dental department sees children and adults for routine dental care, including filling cavities (or “carries” as they are now known). To educate children about oral health, dental staff and HealthCorps Navigators go into local schools in Lake and Mendocino Counties to provide age-appropriate information about how to maintain healthy teeth and gums. “For little kids, we have the ‘Tooth Fairy’ (a staff member who dresses up) and fun puppets. For middle schoolers, we encourage students to take responsibility for their own bodies and make healthy choices,” Dental Manager Becky Driscoll said.
“With the changes in health care, we’re growing. We’re hiring providers and support staff, upgrading our technology, and renovating our facilities. During the last five years, we’ve spent millions of federal dollars expanding our health centers to care for even more patients. At Hillside in Ukiah, we have a brand new Internal Medicine Building that will open in September. At Little Lake in Willits, we renovated our Care for Her department to create a private entrance, and at Lakeview we just finished a brand new centralized lobby to improve patient flow,” Hunter said.
Local internist Dr. Guy Teran has been caring for patients in Ukiah for decades, and chose to join MCHC in 2010. He is recognized by many as the foremost expert on elder care in Mendocino County. He said, “I miss being able to run across the street to see patients in the hospital, but what I love best about MCHC is that we put the patient first…and I’m really looking forward to working with Dr. Sarah Alvord in our new building this fall.”
While Hunter is pleased that MCHC is growing and able to provide health care and employment to many local people, she addressed the challenges hospitals are facing with regard to health reform. “Hospitals are struggling with the changes, and that’s unfortunate. When you have a true medical emergency, you need the ER. However, patients and the community shouldn’t be paying for emergency care when less expensive, more appropriate care is available. Hopefully, the hospitals will be able to find a financial model that works, but for now the doom and gloom that the hospitals are experiencing around the country with the coming of the Affordable Care Act is really an opportunity for outpatient clinics like ours to reach more people and keep them healthy and out of Emergency Rooms.”
With health care reform going into full swing this October, approximately 2500 more Mendocino County residents will be eligible for health coverage through a program called, “Covered California.” MCHC has hired outreach coordinators to educate people about their options and invite them to experience the patient-centered care at their facilities.
“While the Affordable Care Act may present challenges, MCHC will be here expanding services to address the people who are newly eligible for health coverage,” Hunter said.