The following post is by guest blogger, Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center in California. This is an abridged version of an op-ed published in Petaluma360.com on October 29th.
As a young man in the 1950s, my father left his Mexican village to become a Bracero, or guest worker, in the agricultural fields of Sonoma County to pursue the American Dream. He worked during a time when uninsured, low-income individuals, and particularly ethnic minorities were often denied healthcare. Over the past 50 years, Community Health Centers have worked to change that.
Community Health Centers provided opportunities and hope for my family. My childhood was filled with memories of the exam rooms and dental chairs of our health center, La Clinica De La Raza in Oakland, California. I looked up to my older sister, who began as a receptionist at La Clinica and quickly rose up the ranks. She and her colleagues made sure that children received high-quality preventive oral healthcare and education on establishing and maintaining good health habits. I remember watching tooth-brushing videos, chewing red plaque tablets in front of mirrors, tolerating annual fluoride treatments, and demonstrating my flossing expertise to the dental staff. La Clinica served as my medical and dental home until I left for college.
I joined Petaluma Health Center (PHC) because I wanted to help expand access to healthcare and give people the same chance for a healthcare home. PHC’s team wakes up every morning with a strong sense of purpose and passion to ensure that everyone who walks through our doors has access to prevention-focused healthcare.
Last year alone, PHC provided almost 130,000 healthcare visits to 24,000 patients and now has the capacity to double those numbers. We recently opened the Rohnert Park Health Center, a state-of-the-art 38,000-square-foot clinic that will help us to serve an additional 20,000 people. Once fully staffed, the PHC will employ almost 400 community members, including physicians, dentists, and scores of other caregivers, many of whom — like my sister — will be building new careers in the growing healthcare field.
As we celebrate the Rohnert Park Health Center’s grand opening, health centers nationwide are marking their 50th anniversary. They started as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and have grown into one of the largest and most successful primary care systems in the country.
Access to healthcare is only half of the story. Health centers have become an important pathway out of poverty for many patients by creating job opportunities. In fact, many of our medical assistants, caregivers, and administrators at PHC are former or current health center patients, and their personal experience feeds their passion for expanding access to healthcare.
We’re very proud of our work at PHC, and we thank the community for their continuing support. [Watch a video about how great it is to work at PHC]