San Luis Obispo County Family Care Centers Meeting Patient Goals Three Months After Acquisition
Officials from Nipomo-based Community Health Centers of the Central Coast said that they are meeting initial goals for patient satisfaction and access to care at San Luis Obispo County's six family-care clinics, over which CHC assumed management in June, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports (Welton, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 11/16).
CHC took control of four San Luis Obispo County Family Care Centers and two part-time clinics after the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors in March unanimously voted to contract with the not-for-profit company to operate the county's care centers for an estimated annual savings of as much as $2 million. The move was expected to improve access to health care in the region by extending operating hours from 5 p.m. on weekdays currently to as late as 8:30 p.m. seven days a week; offering free transportation to offices; and expanding the array of services offered at the clinics, including increasing from two to six the number of facilities providing pediatric, adult and OB/GYN services (California Healthline, 6/21).
The clinics now are accommodating an additional 5,000 visits per month -- including 3,300 visits inherited from county clinics and 1,700 new visits -- and monthly total visits increased to 17,000 visits from 12,000, according to CHC contract manager Larry Bacus. He said that he expected the number of visits to continue to increase over the next few months as patients become aware of the additional locations and expanded hours and as staffing becomes more complete.
According to the Tribune, some critics have questioned "whether the system is adequately providing medication for the poorest patients" and have said that "privatizing health care removes some accountability."
Pam Heatherington, director of the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, said, "With the county's clinics, patients could go to their representative on the board (of supervisors) or to a board meeting" when they had a complaint. "They can still do that, but the chain of command is smokier than it was before," Heatherington said.
Heatherington also noted that an ombudsman's report reviewed by the county Health Commission raised concerns that some patients might not be able to afford the new copayment for prescription drugs, implemented Oct. 1, of $10 to $25. "There was a rocky period there when some people weren't getting their medications," she said, adding, "I have a suspicion that some people aren't getting the meds they need if they have to choose between medication and eating."
Bacus said the clinics use a sliding scale to help more indigent patients meet the copay.
County Public Health Director Greg Thomas added, "CHC is working to make sure those who absolutely cannot pay who are covered under the contract can get their meds, but that those who can pay indeed do pay" (San Luis Obispo Tribune, 11/16).