The theme of National Health Center Week this year - Celebrating America’s Health Centers: The Key to Healthier Communities - is meant to recognize the ways in which health centers serve as the foundation of health within their community. As we kickoff this incredible week of celebration, we have designated days within the week to showcase key elements of success within the Health Center Program. Today we celebrate the Public Housing Health Centers, health centers with a particular mission to meet the health needs of public housing residents in their communities. This blog post features Maria Sanchez, Manager of the Healthy Steps Program, the Mobile Medical Unit team, and the entire team at San Ysidro Health Center in the greater San Diego area of California focusing on the work they do to provide access to care for all who need it.
Maria Sanchez began her work at San Ysidro Health Center over a decade ago. Since she began at San Ysidro she has served in many roles: as a referrals clerk, connecting patients to specialty services outside of the health centers; as a health educator, bringing knowledge and awareness to the community; and as a program coordinator in the center, organizing events and facilitating better care to the underserved. Today, twelve years later, she manages a program that brings primary health care services to the front doors of those who most need it in her community. Since day one Maria has been dedicated to the work of San Ysidro, to the unique ability of the health center to adapt to the needs of the community, and to the commitment and dedication her colleagues feel that fuel San Ysidro’s powerful mission.
San Ysidro Health Center, originally established in 1969, provides primary and preventive health care along with dental care, behavioral health services, HIV case management, health education and nutrition consultation, chiropractic services, and more through its more than 20 locations stretching from San Diego to the Mexican border. They provide compassionate and holistic care for patients of all ages – from their Teen Clinic, their school-based health centers to their PACE program which provides comprehensive services to the elderly allowing them to stay in their home (rather than a nursing home) and receive hands-on support from the health center.
But the program Maria is perhaps most proud of at San Ysidro is the Healthy Steps Program – a program she manages that provides transportation and mobile health care services to residents of public housing in the area. The mobile clinic means the health center literally goes to where the need is – from the parking lots of public housing apartment communities to shopping centers, grocery stores, and other areas these residents go to shop, work, and eat. The health center prioritizes outreach to uninsured children, making certain to provide all of the necessary check-ups, immunizations, and health education to ensure a strong and healthy youth. Their two active mobile clinics are fully equipped to deliver primary care along with a team that consists of a provider, a medical assistant, and a patient access representative. The mobile clinics are active every day of the year with a third mobile clinic available for special events and outreach work.
The Healthy Steps Program also provides much-needed transportation services to all of their clinics, which, Maria says, is a huge benefit, particularly to the elderly population in the community. Even though many of their clinics are within blocks of major public housing communities and public transportation, often this is too far for an elderly person to walk. San Ysidro has dedicated and friendly drivers that take the residents to their appointments and back home in a wheelchair accessible van.
The key to San Ysidro’s success in addressing the health needs of public housing residents rests in part in its dedication to collaborations and partnerships. The health center has strong relationships with the management companies of the area’s public housing developments, ensuring their ability to provide important services on-site. They also work closely with the business community in the area, such as Northgate Market, a popular grocery store chain among their patients, where they will park in the parking lot to provide health care, no appointment necessary. The health center even helps organize a large Día del Niño (Children’s Day) event every April in collaboration with Northgate. Another collaboration allows them to organize a Breast Cancer Prevention Event including mammogram screenings and targeting low income uninsured women. The event has successfully helped hundreds of women who would otherwise have no access to this preventive care.
For good reason, Maria is extremely proud of the services they provide through the Healthy Steps Program. Not only does this program make health care accessible for those who need it most, it makes it less intimidating to access the care these members of the community need. Maria recalled a time a mother and her three children were parked in a shopping center where the San Ysidro’s mobile clinic was parked. They visited the clinic, requesting immunizations for the kids – over the course of the visit the clinic providers found out the family had been living in their car for some time. San Ysidro staff was then able to connect this mother and her children to vital resources – food, clothing, and transitional into housing.
“When you open a health center and you’re serving the public housing community, you tend to be sensible because you get to know the patients. It’s not just a number,” says Maria, “it’s not just someone that walks in. You get to know those patients and you get to know their challenges. And then there’s no way you’re going to stop there – you’re going to help them if they need housing, if they need help with their electricity bill, with anything. You become sensible to their needs.”
Many thanks to Maria and her team at the Healthy Steps Program, the entire team at San Ysidro Health Center, and the hundreds of public housing health centers across the country that provide such vital services that meet the unique needs of their communities!
To learn more about San Ysidro Health Center, go to syhc.org.