La Clinica begins half-day operation

CENTRAL POINT — With a 13-week waiting list at its two Medford facilities, supporters for La Clinica's new health center on Hamrick Road have opened a temporary clinic on site and are pushing to meet an October grand opening after raising some $3.5 million.

La Clinica development director Maria Underwood said fundraising for the much-needed center is progressing, with $1.3 million in place and the remainder needed to put finishing touches on the structure and ensure day-to-day operations such as equipment and salaries.

"We've just finished the quiet phase of the campaign and we're bringing together 17 committee members to lead the next phase where they're going out and talking to businesses and individuals about supporting this project," Underwood said, adding that they hope to see much of the remaining support for the project come from the community.

Construction began on the project this past fall after the clinic purchased the one and a half-acre site from the Central Point masons for $965,000. The masons, with an aging membership, could not finish the structure and wanted the site to be used for a community purpose.

Underwood said the new clinic was placed in Central Point because the city is the fastest growing in the region and had no established low-income health-care facilities.

At present, some 3,000 existing La Clinica patients live in the city and surrounding communities, though numbers are increasing with the temporary clinic that opened in January.

The modular clinic is open half-days, Monday through Thursday, and has served 15 to 20 patients daily since opening with funds from a $650,000 renewable grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care.

Underwood said a combination of the grant funds and insurance coverage, from the Oregon Health Plan and others, will ensure the clinic provides health care to those who need it most.

Underwood said project coordinators estimated capacity being exceeded at two Medford locations by late 2007, which happened right on schedule.

"We had anticipated we would exceed capacity at our other locations by November because of the need for what we provide," she said. "We currently have a 13-week waiting period for new patients wanting to access medical care at our centers."

In 30 years of emergency room medicine, retired physician Earl Showman, one of the members on the fundraising committee, said he saw countless patients visit the ER for toothaches, flu bugs or other reasons that "safety net clinics" like La Clinica would better suit.

"La Clinica has been pretty darn successful in providing the maximum benefit to patients in the nicest way. From a community impact perspective, they're putting an emphasis right where you want your health-care dollars spent," Showman said, adding that clinics willing to see uninsured or underinsured patients relieve some of the burden placed on emergency rooms and prevent small medical concerns from becoming more serious.

"When I was the director of my department, it was my pain to review charges people received for services there. Temporary treatment for a toothache would be an injection for antibiotics and pain medicine and the bill would be what a root canal would have cost."

Once opened, Showman said the clinic would ease congestion at two other La Clinica sites and ensure "that community members who would otherwise decide to do without can access quality health care." The new clinic is at 4900 Hamrick Road, just off Pine Street near the undeveloped Don Jones Park. For project information, or to donate, contact Underwood at 512-3152.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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