"For the first time in our county's 172-year history, folks in need of affordable health care will be able to get that care at a county facility when they need it, where they need it, right here in the north county," county Supervisor Joe Simitian said at a press conference last week.
Simitian, who has long advocated for a full-service health clinic in District 5, spoke to a crowd of about 35 representatives from nonprofits and health care providers, community leaders, and elected officials from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, which are part of District 5. To date, none of the county's three hospitals or 10 full-service health care clinics are located in the northern end of the county.
"Roughly 400,000 county residents have never had a hospital or clinic to call their own, until today," Simitian said.
He countered claims that the district was too prosperous to need a county health care facility. Approximately 90,000 residents, or nearly one-quarter of the district's population, fall below 400% of the federal poverty limit, he said.
"These are the families trying to make ends meet. They're making those decisions about paying rent, wondering, 'Can I put food on the table? Do I forego the health care that my family and I really need and deserve?' And so, with our partners, many of whom are here today, we will be part of the solution for those families," Simitian said.
Maria Marroquin, executive director of the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, described the support the clinic would provide for domestic workers and day laborers.
"It's important that they have health coverage," she said. "Many don't have medical insurance, and this would help them. What benefits a group of people, benefits the community," she added.
The facility's location near the border of Palo Alto and Mountain View was a consideration in the selection of the site. Dr. Angela Suarez, primary care medical director at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Hospital & Clinics, said it would be easily accessible to residents and workers in the district.
"The convenience of having so many services together in one location close to home or work means health care is available when and where it is needed for many of our north county patients," she said.
Luisa Buada, CEO of Ravenswood Family Health Network, described the long wait times experienced by patients in the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto clinics, stating that nonemergency appointments for ophthalmology could take up to a year and podiatry four months while scheduling appointments, like radiology, could take 30 minutes on the phone. She echoed the hope that the new county facility would relieve wait times at local clinics while also expanding accessibility to underserved communities.
Simitian also addressed the capacity challenges of hospitals and clinics, particularly over the last few years as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health care needs. The new county health clinic would benefit neighboring districts, reducing scheduling and staffing pressures for them too, he said.
When questioned about the cost of the facility, Paul Lorenz, CEO of the Santa Clara Health & Hospital System, said that it likely would be a $20 million tenant improvement of an existing building with an annual leasing cost of a little more than $1 million.
Simitian added that the clinic's status as a federally qualified health center made it affordable for the county.
"It means that we have a reimbursement rate that will pay for the services, including the cost of this facility in the years to come," he said.
The county Board of Supervisors was scheduled to approve the acquisition of the proposed site this week.
Lorenz and Suarez described the potential serving capacity of the clinic. Five primary health care providers would be given a patient panel — a group of patients assigned to a specific physician or clinical team — of 1,800 each, with most patients likely visiting the clinic twice a year. This does not include urgent care visits, which also will be available at the clinic.
Simitian addressed the scope of the clinic's services by stating that different specialty care services would be offered two or three times a week to reach as many patients as possible.
"What that means is that we can do literally twice as much," he said. "We can provide an array of services that is twice as great if we rotate the folks who can be accessible at this clinic."
Advocating for as many specialty services as possible, especially in mental health services, Buada supported this approach.
"People like to stay close to the community they know," she said.
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