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New adult wellness center opens in city of San Fernando

Aug 12, 2015
In The News

Hoping to serve more people with medical needs, Northeast Valley Health Corp. formally dedicated its $5 million adult wellness center Wednesday in the City of San Fernando, near the agency’s first health clinic.

The 10,000-square-foot facility is the third one to be built on the San Fernando Health Center campus, where an additional 2,500 adults will be seen. Fifteen exam rooms were added for adult care and women’s health, which is expected to generate 7,480 visits a year. The three buildings combined will allow the San Fernando Health Center campus to increase its patient load to 85,000 to 100,000 visits a year.

The expansion projects are due mostly to funding by the Affordable Care Act, said Kim Wyard, the CEO of Northeast Valley Health Corp. or NEVHC. The nonprofit organization operates 14 clinics across the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.

“The Affordable Care Act built this building,” Wyard said. “We’ve been able to renovate and add a pediatric dental suite.”

U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City, helped dedicate the new building at 1600 San Fernando Rd., by telling the crowd that he visited the original one in the 1970s with his parents. He said without that center, his family would not have been able to afford dental care.

While debate continues in Washington, D.C., over the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, Cardenas praised the law for expanding health care to more people.

“It’s not a perfect law,” Cardenas said. “But without it the building we’re dedicating today would not have been built. We’re not wasting tax dollars here.”

But with expansion come additional challenges: the need for more funding for more brick and mortar buildings to serve the increasing needs of not only the newly insured residents, but those who remain uninsured.

This week, which marks the 50th anniversary of the community health center movement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $169 million in grants to support 266 new health center sites across the nation. California received $29.5 million of that funding. More than a third of that will go toward 17 Los Angeles community health center organizations. Such funding, as well as grants awarded in May, came just in time, Louise McCarthy, president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of L.A. County, has said.

“This new funding couldn’t come at a more critical time, as L.A.’s community clinics and health centers are working to knit together the pieces of health reform into an evolved system of care for Los Angeles,” McCarthy said in a statement in May.

“In just two years, L.A.’s health centers expanded access to serve 37 percent more patients,” McCarthy said.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 and dubbed Obamacare, the main provision under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is that all Americans must be covered under a health insurance plan or be penalized at tax time. The law also prohibits insurance companies from turning away customers for pre-existing conditions. In 2010, about 22 percent of Californians were uninsured, and the state was the first to establish a health care exchange. Since then, that number has been reduced to 11 percent.

Left out were those who are living in the country illegally. Some reports estimate at least 1 in 10 people in Los Angeles County, or almost 1 million people, are undocumented. For that population, Los Angeles County last year approved a $61 million program called My Health LA, which assigns those who qualify to one of 164 community clinics as their medical home.

That does add to the pressures of providing care in a system that is also struggling to hire more providers in what has been described as a nationwide primary care physician shortage.

“We compete with everyone else for providers,” Wyard said.

The two greatest needs that have emerged among the newly insured is dental care and optometry, she added. Funding has allowed NEVHC to add more adult dental suites as well.

Still, Wyard said federal funding does seem to come through. The original health clinic was opened in the early 1970s and dedicated by the late by Sen. Ted Kennedy. In 1998, a second health center was built and opened on the San Fernando campus with federal funding due to the Northridge Earthquake to provide more medical and dental services. Now the third one also comes from federal money.

“If it wasn’t for public policy,” Wyard said, “this land would still be a trailer park.”