For more than a decade, Southern California Medical Center has identified underserved communities and brought low-cost health care to residents throughout the region. Amid the pandemic, the nonprofit opened its fourth and fifth clinics, including one in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town.
Founded by Chief Medical Officer Mohammad Rasekhi and CEO Sheila Busheri in 2009, the organization has locations in El Monte, Pico Rivera, Pomona and Van Nuys. The Long Beach clinic first opened its doors in late 2020, well into the coronavirus crisis, which added challenges.
“Getting new patients was so hard,” Sara Sharafi, community development manager for SCMC, told the Business Journal. “And there’s always a [staffing] issue, but COVID made it worse.”
Sharafi said in the early days the clinic was short-staffed, and employees had to work extra hours to keep up with COVID testing demand around the holidays.
“We had sick employees,” she said. “Our providers were burnt out. But we were able to do it because teamwork makes the dream work.”
The clinic is now fully staffed with 20 medical personnel, including nurses, physicians and two dentists. To better serve the area’s diverse residents, the staff speaks almost half a dozen languages in addition to English, including Spanish, Khmer, Farsi, Armenian and Arabic, Sharafi said.
The clinic can request translation services from various insurance plans or through government programs if needed, Sharafi added.
The services offered by SCMC clinics are comprehensive: general medical and primary care, physicals, immunizations, lab services, prenatal care, STD and HIV testing, dental, behavioral health and more. The Long Beach location, though, is still awaiting state approval for several services, Sharafi said, noting that patients should call ahead to ensure the clinic can provide the care they need.
The organization also has specialists who travel between the five clinics providing care such as physical therapy, orthopedic care and even chiropractic care.
“We have an onsite laboratory, which makes it very convenient for our patients,” Sharafi said, noting that the clinic is a one-stop shop for medical and dental services, which can be handled in a single visit.
The facility recently underwent an extensive renovation, adding a second dental room, a dedicated behavioral health room for added privacy and a kids room for them to play while they wait. All spaces also were fitted with new cabinetry and paint.
In the wake of that work’s completion, the nonprofit hosted a grand reopening event on Oct. 22, which featured a taco vendor, tours of the facility and numerous speakers.
The organization and its clinics are federally qualified health centers, meaning they are funded through the federal government’s Public Health Services Act and enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
The designation allows SCMC to offer a sliding fee scale that ensures no patient, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay traditional health care costs, is turned away.
“There are families in our communities that have to pick and choose between their health and paying for food or having shelter,” Sharafi said. “This is a place where people do not have to be worried about feeding their family while thinking about having a healthy family.”
Being a qualified health center also requires SCMC to directly cater to an underserved area, have an ongoing quality assurance program, have a governing board and provide comprehensive services.
For patients who do not have insurance or are ineligible for Medicare, Sharafi said they can apply for temporary Medicare, which covers them for two months and can be applied for each year. The temporary coverage includes unlimited medical and dental visits, she said, along with most medications.
If patients also are not eligible for temporary Medicare, they can sign up for the clinic’s sliding fee plan. After $171 for the initial visit, the clinic looks at family size and income to determine the cost of each subsequent visit for the next year. Patients pay anywhere from $25 to $100 per visit and receive discounts on lab work as well as dental and behavioral health care, according to Sharafi.
Patients can sign up for a payment plan as well if they are unable to pay the full amount, Sharafi said. If there is a change in the family size or income, the sliding fee is adjusted up or down, she added.
The Long Beach clinic has overcome the challenges of opening amid a global pandemic and now sees about 50 patients per day, which is still the lowest average of the five clinics, Sharafi said.
In addition to providing health care to the community, SCMC also works to embed itself within the communities it serves, Sharafi said. Each year the nonprofit organizes two main events: a backpack giveaway ahead of the new school year and a toy giveaway during the holidays.
In August, the company distributed about 5,000 backpacks to kids ages 4 to 12, Sharafi said, noting that in Long Beach they distributed around 700. Last holiday season, the organization gifted about 12,000 toys. Any leftover toy donations are left in the clinics, which kids are then allowed to take.
The next step is to bring the organization’s mobile clinic to Long Beach in order to serve other underserved areas, Sharafi said. In other cities, SCMC has partnered with school districts to allow the mobile unit on campuses to provide students, their families and the surrounding neighborhoods various types of care, including general check ups and dental services.
As soon as SCMC identifies partners and locations in Long Beach, Sharafi said the mobile clinic will begin serving the city. One option she is looking into is the city’s various farmers markets.
If a patient uses the mobile clinic and it turns out they need more intensive care quickly, SCMC offers free transport, Sharafi added.
“Our mission,” she said, “is to serve the underserved.”