Family Health Centers works to balance healthcare access inequities

When we look at health outcomes in the United States, there remains a vast disparity between communities of color and the non-Hispanic White demographic. Barrio Logan resident Laura Rodriguez recognized this divide and, in 1970, established the first clinic that would grow into the multifaceted and wide-spread Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD). Called by many “The Mother of the Barrio,” the seeds of development that she planted have grown to serve not only Barrio Logan residents, but also under-served communities throughout San Diego County.

As the second largest system of community clinics in the United States, FHCSD has 33 sites, covering much of central and southern San Diego County. With a wide array of primary and specialty care services, they are dedicated to insure that low income and non- or under-insured individuals are not prevented from receiving screenings and treatments that may save their lives.

I sat down with Ben Avey, FHCSD’s government and media relations manager, to further discuss the community impact.

“It’s important to remember that our services are open to everybody,” he said. “No one is turned away, as we provide services to people regardless of their ability to pay.”

In a time of healthcare coverage change and uncertainty, this is especially important for individuals who have a lack of education about healthcare enrollment. After assuring that patients receive the immediate care that they need, FHCSD provides assistance in assessing what healthcare coverage programs for which they might be eligible. In Avey’s words, “If you are sick and need healthcare, we are here for you.”

In his monumental speech, Martin Luther King Jr. references the Declaration of Independence’s promise of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, however the first tenet is often cut short in communities of color. Date from the Office of Minority Health shows that, in the United States, Latino infant death is 30 percent higher than their Caucasian, non-Latino counterparts and African-Americans are 2.3 times more likely to face infant mortality.

For this reason, one of FHCSD’s key demographic-based programs is the Black Infant Health (BIH). A County of San Diego administered program, the goals are to support African-American women and their infants throughout their pregnancies and up to three months following a child’s birth. Services offered include: prenatal and postpartum classes, application assistance for government funded programs, case management, social support, health education and referrals for emergency needs, and additional resources. All BIH services are at no cost and available to African-American women who are pregnant or have a child up to three months of age.

Another health issue that drastically impacts the African-American and Latino populations is HIV and AIDS. While communities of color comprise 30 percent of the overall U.S. population, in 2012, 71 percent of new HIV infections were diagnosed within this demographic. Additionally, a disproportionately high percentage of these diagnoses happen in a later stage of infection, when significant damage has been done to the immune system.

In The Mix (ITM) is an HIV-prevention program for young gay and bisexual men between 18 and 29 years old, which addresses this priority. In concert with Vista Community Clinic and The LGBT Community Center, this program mobilizes men to shape a healthier community and support safer sex through support groups, activities and HIV-testing initiatives. Additionally, Tuesday and Thursday night clinics offer STD testing for gay men and transgendered individuals at the Ciaccio Memorial Clinic in North Park.

One column is not enough to outline all of the services that FHCSD offers, so I will close with a client story that Ben shared with me:

Maria was born in Logan Heights and received her healthcare through FHCSD since she was a child. Now living in North Park, she is a single mom with three children. During her routine exam, a lump was discovered in her breast and a biopsy revealed that it was cancer. The diagnosis came on a Friday and by the following Wednesday, Maria had been connected to the FHCSD Susan G. Komen-funded breast cancer patient navigator, Eva. Eva helped coordinate Maria’s care and connected her with their breast cancer support group, which helped her make it through the treatment that included a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

Today, Maria is cancer free and is a FHCSD breast cancer program volunteer. Her experience and bilingual language skills have allowed her to transform what could have been a devastating experience into a gift that supports others.

When Rodriguez established the first part-time clinic in Barrio Logan, she couldn’t have known how that seed would have blossomed 43 years later. Honored by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 as the 595th “Point of Light” recipient, she is a San Diego legacy that speaks to the power of the words, “I have a dream.”

For more information, visit fhcsd.org

—Ian Morton has worked in the HIV field since 1994 when he began volunteering with AIDS Response Knoxville. He currently serves as outreach liaison for the AIDS Research Institute at UCSD. To nominate a person or organization to be featured in Profiles in Advocacy, please submit name, affiliation and contact information to imorton@ucsd.edu.

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