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Clinic Expansion Helps More Uninsured and Low-Income

6 November 2008 No Comment

By Adelaide Chen

As health care costs continue to rise, the expansion of the largest clinic in Oakland’s San Antonio area for uninsured and low-income patients has come at a needed time.

The San Antonio Neighborhood Health Center that once operated out of a house in the late ‘70s is expanding into a development that will cost altogether $9.85 million.

The renovated two-story warehouse on International Blvd. is located next to the building that housed the health center for the past three decades. The old building will be under construction until June. Once completed, it will double the size of the health center.

The new main building has a waiting room with twenty wide chairs, a long reception counter stretching almost the entire side, and ample space for kids to run around. The previous building had one long hallway and rooms on both sides. The former waiting room had ten chairs.

“We outgrew that space a long time ago,” said Jane Garcia, CEO of the parent organization La Clinica de La Raza, greeting donors who contributed to the expansion at an October reception.

The San Antonio site is one of 26 locations in the Bay Area. But it ranks second behind the flagship location in the Fruitvale Village in terms of patient numbers and size.

“Once we acquired the warehouse, we set a fundraising goal of $3.7 million,” she said. The organization exceed their expectations and raised $4.1 million.

But perhaps the most crucial element, the exam rooms, will double, from 10 to 20. During construction, some of the exam rooms are being used for medical files and as a pharmacy. But once these departments are able to move into the old building, the expansion will begin.

With the increase in exam rooms, the number of patients is expected to double as well, from 6,000 to 11,000 over the course of five years, according to Renata Fineberg, clinic manager.

The growth of the clinic is an important step towards serving the needs of the community, Fineberg said. The clinic accepts Medi-Care and Medi-Cal patients, and charges fees based on a sliding scale.

For example, a patient that doesn’t qualify for a program such as Medi-Cal pays a flat fee of $80 per visit at most. The amount slides towards zero according to the patient’s income level and a scale based on federal guidelines, she said.

About 60 percent of the patients of the clinic fall below the federal poverty line. For the annual income of a family of four, the amount comes out to $21,200, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Even though almost three-quarters of La Clinica’s patients are Latino—at the San Antonio location, a third are Asian. The clinic offers doctors who speak Asian languages such as Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Mandarin. And a Cambodian speaking doctor comes on Tuesdays.

A doctor and his wife, a nurse, started the neighborhood clinic during the ‘70s in a modest single-story house behind International Blvd. to address health care needs of the residents.

Dr. Joe Selby said they had always hoped the clinic would grow.

“The need was there,” he said. “It was medically underserved.” While living in the area during the ’70s, there was not one clinic that addressed the needs of the neighborhood, he said.

But on the residential street where he purchased the house, opposition came from the neighbors.

“We had to go before the zoning board,” Selby said, due to a claim filed by a resident. Fortunately the board sided with the clinic, he said.

“We eventually won them over,” said Nan Murrell, who worked for the clinic as a family nurse practioner. She bought the house from Selby when the clinic moved. She remembers one of her neighbors being part of the opposition.

“We provided good health care for this neighborhood,” she said. “People came from all over. We saw a lot of patients here.”

She said after purchasing the house, people would continue to show up on her doorstep asking for the clinic.

For client Jaime Andrade, 27, whose wife is receiving pre-natal care for their first child due in spring, said he is pleased with the renovated building.

Not only does it have more space, it’s cleaner and more organized than the previous building, he said. The service at the reception counter is faster too, he said.

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