Too often when we talk about the health center funding cliff people ask what is at stake. To answer that question for ourselves we went in search of stories and connected with Pat Owings, Communications Coordinator with Redwood Coast Medical Services (RCMS). The health center is located in Gualala, a small community overlooking the Pacific Ocean and sitting right on the edge of the rugged coast of Northern California. Pat told us, “Gualala is about 120 miles north of San Francisco, and roads to and from the small unincorporated community are mountainous and narrow. Weather conditions, especially in winter, can cause difficult and dangerous driving conditions.”
That is why the services RCMS provides are so critical. The health center is the sole provider of medical care to a community of approximately 8,500 residents. Because of the remote location, and the nearest urban area, hospital or emergency room is about a two hour drive away, RCMS provides two unique services that make living in this wild but beautiful area a little easier for both residents and visitors:
* Urgent Care Medical Services after hours.
* Visiting Nurse Services with home visits made by a Skilled Nursing Team.
These services are not normally included in the scope of service for the Community Health Center model of care, but they are desperately needed. They are also very costly. Thanks to the vision and commitment of RCMS leadership and its board (health centers are directed by patient majority governing boards), fundraising and the financial support of the community have helped make this service possible. In an unusual step, the community voted by special ballot to allow property taxes to be used to help support expanding RCMS’ Urgent Care to on-call coverage on weekends and holidays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Expanded Services funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration also helped.
The RCMS Urgent Care Medical Team is headed up by Physician Assistants who are able to treat a wide range of urgent medical issues, ranging from severe colds, flu, and lacerations, to more serious medical concerns relating to cardiac problems, stroke and severe injuries. Having Urgent Care service available means patients are treated effectively at the health center and costly visits (not to mention long drives) to emergency rooms are avoided.
And speaking of long drives, the nearest home health services are almost 60 miles away. That is why RCMS operates one of very few Visiting Nurses program in the nation. RCMS nurses make in-home visits Mondays through Fridays to patients who are homebound either due to a long- or short-term illness or injury. This service allows seniors avoid long drives to hospitals and specialists out of the area and is credited with eliminating or shortening hospital stays and/or reducing the time spent in rehabilitation facilities.
What makes the health center funding cliff so worrisome for RCMS, is the health center stands to lose up to $910,000 in funding if Congress does not fix the funding cliff. That means patients who rely on RCMS as their sole provider could lose access to care or have some of the vital services cut. No matter how you do the math, the funding cliff will affect people who need care in Gualala, CA.
For more information about the funding cliff visit this link.