If you’re sick and you only speak (Farsi) or (Hmong) or (Other), help is just a phone call away. In fact, if you don’t speak English, the El Dorado County Community Health Center can help you with telephonic interpreting services in 17 languages. Many of the center’s staff are bilingual as well — from Spanish to Hungarian. Not having insurance, likewise, is no problema.
EDCCHC at 4327 Golden Center Drive in Placerville is a comprehensive health care provider for patients of all ages. The center “serves all patients regardless of ability to pay, and no one will be denied needed services on the basis of race, sex, creed or religion.”
Since its creation in 2003, the community clinic has treated thousands of local folks, especially the Medi-Cal and uninsured population and those with limited access to health care. As a Federally Qualified Health Center operating as a not-for-profit 501(C)(3) organization, the center’s mission is “to improve the health of our community through quality healing and preventive services.”
The center’s operations are governed by a “patient-driven, patient-controlled board of directors,” Jim Ellsworth, executive director, said.
Over the past seven years, the community health center has not only outgrown its original campus, its satellite facility, the “south campus, the Placerville Health and Wellness Center” is also bursting its seams, Ellsworth explained. The organization is now looking for another building or campus into which it can expand.
Now a separate corporation, the Community Health Center was started by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors through the county’s Department of Public Health and funded by Tobacco Settlement money. Public Health Department manager Chris Weston acted as the CEO during its development phase.
Although founded on grant money, the organization’s motto now includes “cost-effectiveness, being completely independent and self-sustaining.” And Ellsworth pointed out that for the past three years, the center’s revenues have exceeded its expenditures, and the surplus has been reinvested in the operation. Grant funding now would be used only for specific projects and not for things that can’t be sustained otherwise, Ellsworth explained proudly.
On a typical day, the center’s staff sees from 160 to 180 patients for a total of 37,000 treatment visits last year. About 10,500 are considered active patients and children under the age of 5 account for 23 percent of the total and 35 percent of the active patient load, according to a center fact sheet.
Other demographics show just over 7 percent are young people from 13 to 18; 61 percent are between the ages of 19 and 64 and nearly 8 percent are 65 or older. The highest number of patients, 31.4 percent, are covered by the state’s Medi-Cal program while 17.8 percent are treated under the Child Health & Disability Prevention program. Medicare A&B account for nearly 13 percent and the county Medical Services Program covers another 10.8 percent. Nineteen percent of patients pay privately on a sliding scale and commercial insurance covers the remaining 10.5 percent.
The clinic provided $831,000 in “charity care” at cost in 2009, Ellsworth said.
The fact sheet notes that the center has accounted for 69 permanent high-paying jobs and another 29 jobs in support industries. It contributes more than $5 million directly into the local economy and another $3.2 million in “indirect economic activity.” Revenues in 2010 exceeded $6 million.
But the dollars and cents hardly tell the whole story.
“Our people are the heart of our organization,” Ellsworth said. “They are a hand-picked staff who want to work with poor people. Not everyone in health care wants to work with Medi-Cal patients, and we offer services you don’t find in other health care offices. Our staff really connects with our patients.”
Behavioral health director Dr. John Bachman described a seamless “warm handoff” from medical to behavioral health staff that allows patients to see a psychologist or clinical social worker, often moments after the medical treatment has been completed. Thus, patients in need don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment with other public or private mental health providers.
Every patient also has access to an advocate or a case manager who can help with a multitude of issues, signing up for benefits or dealing with public agencies.
Partnering with local agencies such as New Morning and United Outreach, the center will provide gas money for patients who otherwise would not be able to make an appointment. Tents and socks for homeless folks can be arranged, and a specialized grant provides extended care for hospitalized, homeless patients. The program also provides case management during an individual’s recovery time. That grant is part of a two-year pilot program in concert with Marshall Hospital and United Outreach.
Patients may have to wait a bit longer for an appointment over the next few months as the center recently began conversion to electronic medical records.
“Marshall is leading the effort and we have the same system they’re developing. Full integration is still several years in the future. A national integrated system under the health care reform act is probably a decade away,” Ellsworth explained.
The community health center also collaborates with UC Davis Medical Center and the ROP’s Health Occupations programs. Aspiring physician assistants and family Nurse practitioners from UCD acquire clinical hours at the center under programs designed to increase health care in rural areas. Medical students and ROP students shadow the on-site staff who model the treatment of patients.
As a community-oriented service, the center advocates for a three-tiered approach to its patients and the community at large. Medical treatment, behavioral health and health education are the components Ellsworth stressed as the focus of the center’s programs and future goals. Teen pregnancy and the burgeoning incidence of sexually transmitted diseases are areas that need attention, he said.
Education doesn’t end with the patients, either. The center has been active in its support of higher training and professional development for its own staff. Outreach and promotions director Diana Labelle-Kantola, who arranged for Mountain Democrat staff to meet with the center’s leadership team, said she was able to complete studies for her bachelor’s degree with much help from the center. Others are pursuing nursing degrees and other special training.
Asked about a particular day or event that represented the center to her, that is, what would she go home and talk about on a memorable day, Labelle-Kantola e-mailed the following on the day after the visit.
“About your question on what I couldn’t wait to come home and talk about on a particular day. There are so many wonderful things that happen here each day I really can’t pick! In general the staff is so caring and so patient oriented I have a very hard time picking out one thing. Becky, Arturo, Yvette and Willa in Patient Services help uninsured people (without any money) find specialty services. Services that have saved lives.
“The billing department takes the time to help people with their billing and explaining coverage, they even work out small payment plans for patients, sometimes owing only $20 but to that patient it might as well be $200 because they have no way to pay it in full. The medical assistants are always pulling together food or clothes to help someone in need and even Jim Ellsworth has found a person or two on the street to bring into the center and help get them back on their feet. All of this on the employee’s own personal time sometimes with employee funds.
“I could not be more proud to work in an office with amazing people going above and beyond for El Dorado County,” Ellsworth said. “The staff actually takes care of their patients and each other like family.”
That’s understandable in any language.