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Calif. Community Health Centers Move to "Whole Patient" Model

PHOTO: A volunteer at a Share Our Selves food bank is part of the integrated care approach at many California community health centers. Photo courtesy of Share Our Selves.
PHOTO: A volunteer at a Share Our Selves food bank is part of the integrated care approach at many California community health centers. Photo courtesy of Share Our Selves.
May 27, 2015

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Community Health Centers now are the primary point of care for more than 23 million Americans - with 1,000 clinics in California alone.

Many centers are using an integrated care model that takes into account the person's life as a whole, not just their medical concerns. Some have taken a one-stop shopping approach, where patients can see a doctor but also get help for underlying social problems such as housing issues, poverty, hunger or depression.

Karen McGlinn, chief executive of Share Our Selves, runs five nonprofit clinics in Orange County where case managers look at body, mind and spirit - and connect patients with the right programs.

"We have a food bank, we have financial aid available, legal law clinics, a lot of special programs that deal with care for the homeless, the mentally ill," she said. "So we integrate all those challenges into the delivery of our health-care process."

Health centers started as part of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty 50 years ago. These federally qualified health centers are nonprofits that accept Medi-Cal and private insurance, and often raise millions in private donations to cover expenses for those who cannot afford it.

Open Door Community Health Centers serve 80,000 patients in northwest California near the Oregon border. CEO Hermann Spetzler said the clinics include a community garden, a playground, an exercise circuit and hiking trails - all to inspire people to eat more vegetables and get a move on.

"So it is not unusual for a patient to get a prescription that says three times a week we want you to come to the garden and do about 45 minutes worth of gardening, do the exercise routine that we've suggested," he said, "and their vital signs are recorded and added to their chart."

Community health centers are really embracing the concept of wellness - beating back chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease - one patient at a time.

More information is online at shareourselves.org or opendoorhealth.com.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA