La Clinica receives a big grant, and a big challenge

La Clinica is celebrating a new grant to run its Central Point Health Center and gearing up for a fundraising campaign to raise the building that will house the clinic.

The $650,000 federal grant will allow will allow La Clinica to provide health care for an additional 3,500 new patients, said Development Director Maria Ramos Underwood.

The expansion will also free up capacity at La Clinica's other two offices by providing a more convenient "medical home" for some 2,600 current patients who live in or near Central Point.

"It'll be the largest of our three clinics," said Ramos Underwood, who wrote the winning grant proposal. "It'll also be the hub for our new homeless outreach program."

The grant must be used only to provide health care, not for bricks and mortar. That means the nonprofit clinic will have to raise $3.5 million to build and equip its partially completed 10,000-square-foot office at 4900 Hamrick Road.

La Clinica's reputation for doing good work should help the fundraising campaign, said Dennis Barr, another member of the steering committee.

It was founded as La Clinica del Valle in 1988 to provide health care for migrant and seasonal farm workers in Jackson County. In 2001, it expanded its scope to serve the community at large, and it now serves more than 13,000 people across Jackson County.

Services are provided without regard to the patients' ability to pay, and on a sliding scale for those without insurance.

"The challenge will be to convince donors that the additional site is needed," Barr said, "but when you look at the demographics you see the need is growing, rather than being met."

Ramos Underwood said La Clinica has grown by more than 175 percent over the past six years, and receives about 20 calls daily from people who want to become new patients. Without the new building, La Clinica would have been forced to close its practice to new patients, Ramos Underwood said. Even with the new building, it will probably have to close to new patients for a few months until the Central Point building is completed.

The renewable grant is one of 41 made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its "New Access Points" program, which is designed to provide additional health care for low-income residents and those without adequate health insurance.

While it might seem strange to seek operating funds for a clinic that doesn't yet exist, securing the grant actually will make the fundraising easier, said Dan Thorndike, who sits on the clinic's 15-member steering committee. Thorndike said donors for building projects often want to know whether there is adequate money to keep the doors open after the construction is finished.

"It would have been difficult to raise the (construction) money without having those (operating) funds in hand," he said.

The building was initially conceived as a Mason's lodge, but the organization abandoned the project when it ran out of money. La Clinica bought the building late in 2006. When finished it will include 12 examination rooms and seven rooms for more involved dental procedures.

The grant requires La Clinica to provide services at the site within 120 days of the award. To comply, La Clinica will install a modular unit at the site while construction continues, Ramos Underwood said. The new clinic is scheduled to open in the fall of 2008. The modular building will be open by Jan. 2.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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