For more than a decade, Southern California Medical Center has identified underserved communities and brought low-cost health care to residents throughout the region. Amid the pandemic, the nonprofit opened its fourth and fifth clinics, including one in the Cambodian city of Long Beach.
Founded by Chief Medical Officer Mohammad Rasekhi and CEO Sheila Busheri in 2009, the organization has locations in El Monte, Pico Rivera, Pomona and Van Nuys. The Long Beach clinic first opened in late 2020, well after the coronavirus crisis, which added challenges.
“Getting new patients was so difficult,” Sara Sharafi, community development manager for SCMC, told the Business Journal. “And there is always a [staffing] problem, but COVID made it worse.
Sharafi said that at first the clinic was understaffed and employees had to work overtime to meet the demand for COVID tests during the holidays.
“We had sick employees,” she said. “Our suppliers have been exhausted. But we were able to do it because teamwork makes the dream work.
The clinic is now fully staffed with 20 medical staff, including nurses, doctors and two dentists. To better serve the region’s diverse residents, staff speak nearly half a dozen languages in addition to English, including Spanish, Khmer, Farsi, Armenian and Arabic, said Sharafi.
The clinic can request translation services from various insurance plans or government programs if needed, Sharafi added.
The services offered by SCMC clinics are comprehensive: general and primary medical care, physical exams, vaccinations, laboratory services, prenatal care, STD and HIV testing, dental care, behavioral health and more. The Long Beach location, however, is still awaiting state approval for several services, Sharafi said, noting that patients should call ahead to ensure the clinic can provide the care they need. need.
The organization also has specialists who move between the five clinics providing care such as physiotherapy, orthopedic care and even chiropractic care.
“We have a lab on site, which makes it very convenient for our patients,” Sharafi said, noting that the clinic is a one-stop-shop for medical and dental services, which can be handled in a single visit.
The facility recently underwent a complete renovation, adding a second dental room, a dedicated behavioral health room for more privacy, and a kids’ room for them to play while they wait. All spaces have also been outfitted with new cabinetry and paint.
Following the completion of this work, the nonprofit organized a large reopening event on October 22, which included a taco vendor, tours of the facility, and numerous speakers.
The organization and its clinics are federally licensed health centers, which means they are funded by the federal Public Health Services Act and enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
The designation allows SCMC to offer a sliding fee scale that ensures that no patient, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay traditional healthcare fees, is turned away.
“There are families in our communities who have to choose between their health and paying for food or having shelter,” Sharafi said. “It’s a place where people don’t have to worry about feeding their families while thinking about having a healthy family.”
Being a qualified health center also requires SCMC to directly care for an underserved area, have an ongoing quality assurance program, have a board of directors, and provide comprehensive services.
For patients who don’t have insurance or aren’t eligible for Medicare, Sharafi said they can apply for temporary health insurance, which covers them for two months and can be applied for annually. Term coverage includes unlimited medical and dental visits, she said, as well as most medications.
If patients are also not eligible for temporary health insurance, they can enroll in the clinic’s mobile pricing plan. After $171 for the first visit, the clinic looks at family size and income to determine the cost of each subsequent visit for the following year. Patients pay between $25 and $100 per visit and receive discounts on lab work as well as dental and behavioral care, according to Sharafi.
Patients can also sign up for a payment plan if they are unable to pay the full amount, Sharafi said. If there is a change in family size or income, the moving fee is adjusted up or down, she added.
The Long Beach clinic overcame the challenges of opening amid a global pandemic and is now seeing about 50 patients a day, which is still the lowest average of the five clinics, Sharafi said.
In addition to providing health care to the community, SCMC also strives to integrate within the communities it serves, Sharafi said. Each year, the association organizes two main events: a distribution of backpacks before the start of the school year and a distribution of toys during the holidays.
In August, the company distributed about 5,000 backpacks to children between the ages of 4 and 12, Sharafi said, noting that in Long Beach they distributed about 700. During the last holiday, the organization has offered approximately 12,000 toys. Any remaining toy donations are left in the clinics, which the children are then allowed to take away.
The next step is to bring the organization’s mobile clinic to Long Beach to serve other underserved areas, Sharafi said. In other cities, SCMC has partnered with school districts to enable the mobile unit on campuses to provide students, their families, and surrounding neighborhoods with various types of care, including general health checkups. and dental services.
Once SCMC identifies partners and locations in Long Beach, Sharafi said the mobile clinic will begin serving the city. One option she is considering is the various farmers markets around town.
If a patient uses the mobile clinic and is found to need more intensive care quickly, the SCMC provides free transportation, Sharafi added.
“Our mission,” she said, “is to serve the underserved.”