Community clinics in City Heights seeing dramatic growth in demand for services

Family Health Centers of San Diego is building a 48,000-square-foot facility at 5454 El Cajon Blvd. to meet growing demand for services. The building will replace the existing City Heights Family Health Center, which is much smaller. Photo courtesy of Family Health Centers

In the past two years, the Rady Children’s Urgent Care Center in City Heights has seen a 19 percent growth in patients. That makes it the busiest Rady’s urgent care facility in the county.

Other nonprofit health providers in City Heights are also reporting explosive growth in demand. La Maestra Community Health Centers, which last year opened a 36,000-square-foot headquarters in City Heights, estimates its patient load is increasing by as much as 30 percent a year.

San Diego Family Care, which operates the Mid-City Community Clinic at two separate locations for children and adults, and Family Health Centers of San Diego, which runs the City Heights Family Health Center and Kid Care Express mobile clinics, have experienced the same trend as well.

Family Health Centers is now in the midst of building a 48,000-square-foot facility at 5454 El Cajon Blvd., less than a quarter of a mile away from its existing 5,000-square-foot clinic. The new building is expected to be completed in early 2012.

“The new site will be a much larger comprehensive clinic. We will add dental services, HIV care and case management, and increasing the capacity of our existing services, such as pediatrics, mental health and chronic disease care,” said Jennette Lawrence Shay, director of government and community relations for Family Health Centers.

“More people are demanding care. We needed a larger facility to be able to add physicians and support staff to meet their needs.”

Meanwhile, San Diego Family Care is studying ways to expand services by adding evening hours at its existing Mid-City Community Clinic facilities and exploring new locations, according to Aaron Zaheer, medical director of pediatrics for the organization.

Due to the prolonged economic recession, nonprofit health providers in general are coping with an influx of new patients who have lost their job and health insurance. “As a safety net, we are seeing a huge increase in demand,” Zaheer said.

With federal health care reform, he also believes more patients will be looking for primary care homes and end up at community clinics. Right now, he said, many patients who may qualify for subsidized care in the future are coming in only when they are in dire need. In the future, he expects more patients will take advantage of preventive care.

Collaboration, rather than competititon

While the nonprofit health providers in City Heights are clustered in a relatively small area, they collaborate, rather than compete with each other. Their services and hours tend to complement each other’s.

For example, Mid-City Community Clinic – Pediatrics and Rady Children’s Urgent Care Center share the same space at 4305 University Ave. Mid-City Community Clinic operates during the day and Rady’s provides urgent care late into the evening. Through Rady’s, Mid-City Community Clinic patients have access to radiology services.

La Maestra’s dental clinics are in the same building as Rady’s Urgent Care Center and the Mid-City Community Clinic – Pediatrics. As a result, Mid-City Community Clinic is able to gain designation as a federally qualified health center that provides comprehensive services to underserved populations.

Katherine Konzen, director of urgent care for Rady’s, said the collaboration between Rady’s and Mid-City Community Clinic has been very successful. “The facilities are used all day long. Patients have great access to care from 8 a.m. in the morning to 10 p.m. at night.”

Commitment to providing culturally-competent services

If there is one thing that the nonprofit health providers have in common, it’s their commitment to ensure their services address the culturally diverse needs of their clients. All the providers make special efforts to hire employees who speak foreign languages, such as Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese, in addition to English. Some of the providers make use of telephone interpretation services when a patient speaks a rare language that nobody on their staff understands.

Zara Marselian, La Maestra’s chief executive officer, said if her organization can’t find staff who can speak the languages spoken in the community, it will recruit those speakers from the community and train them to be medical assistants. La Maestra has a model for developing medically-trained cultural liaisons who serve as ambassadors in the community on health care matters and bring feedback on how to improve its serves to reach particular ethnic groups.

“We know the only way to gain cultural competence is to hire from the community we serve,” Marselian said.

Providing quality, affordable care

All the nonprofit providers help patients without health care insurance apply for government health programs. For those who don’t qualify for subsidized care, they typically discount fees based on income and family size. As a general rule, the community clinics don’t turn anyone away.

“Our mission is to provide affordable high-quality care to everyone who needs it. We take that mission very seriously,” Shay said.

Because not all of their patients can pay, nonprofit providers rely heavily on public and private grants and fundraising to cover budget gaps.

  • City Heights Family Health Center, 5379 El Cajon Blvd., (619) 515-2400
  • La Maestra Community Health Centers, Main Medical Clinic, 4060 Fairmount Ave., (619) 280-4213
  • La Maestra Pediatrics, 4060 Fairmount Ave., 619-280-4213
  • La Maestra Women’s Clinic, 4060 Fairmount Ave., (619) 280-7072
  • La Maestra Behavioral Health Services – Family Wellness, 4060 Fairmount Ave., (619)
  • 564-8765
  • La Maestra Optometry, 4060 Fairmount Ave., (619) 280-4213 ext: 3803
  • La Maestra Community Pharamcy, 4060 Fairmount Ave., (619) 564-7013
  • La Maestra Dental Clinic #1, 4305 University Ave., Ste. 150, (619) 501-1235
  • La Maestra Dental Clinic #2, 4305 University Ave., Ste. 120, (619) 285-8135
  • Mid-City Community Clinic – Pediatrics, 4305 University Ave., (619) 280-2058
  • Mid-City Community Clinic – Adults, 4290 Polk Ave., (619) 563-0250
  • Rady Children’s Urgent Care Center, 4305 University Ave., Ste. 150, (619) 280-2905