12 Aug National Health Center Week — The New Ways We Are Reaching Our Amazing Patients
Yamilet Valladolid, MPH
Government Affairs Manager
Director of Business Development
The spread of COVID-19 has had a crippling effect in our nation and in our ability to meet the needs of individuals and families who rely on Community Health Centers for care, especially for low-income and underserved communities. Golden Valley Health Centers (GVHC), has been serving in the Central Valley in California since 1972, has also felt the impact of the pandemic, both as an organization and as a vital community safety net provider to over 150K patients in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. With 25,000 positive cases and growing in our service area, GVHC staff and leadership have had to innovate, adapt, and rapidly respond to the new challenges being faced by many health care providers across the country. Since California’s Governor Gavin Newsom issued stay-at-home orders in March 2020, GVHC leadership has implemented various effective strategies to continue to offer critical access to primary care services.
One strategy GVHC has relied heavily on is the use of virtual care, utilizing primarily telephonic encounters and more recently, integrating video-technologies to maintain continuity of care while also protecting patients and staff from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. The pandemic and the consequential guidelines and mandates initially resulted in a 30 – 50% drop in patient encounters, a figure that would likely have been significantly higher without the availability of virtual care. Between March 20 and July 24, telehealth visits accounted for more than 53% of GVHC’s 211,455 encounters, and in the time period during which restrictions have been most stringent for stay-at-home orders, they’ve made up more than 70%. Moreover, GVHC staff are receiving exceedingly positive feedback from patients on the quick adoption and expansion of telehealth delivery services, which include medical and behavioral health services. The observed success is not only a testament to the benefits of this modality of care, but also to the staff and clinical providers on the front lines who show a spirit of resiliency and courage under the present adversities.
GVHC also utilizes WELL Health and CareMessage applications to securely communicate with patients. Initially implemented to aid in the management of chronic conditions by texting reminders of various treatment needs and facilitating scheduling via text message, the use of these platforms has been extended to the larger patient population as means of scheduling, performing outreach, and securely transmitting documents. Specifically, GVHC staff has been reaching out to individuals who are considered high-risk or homebound, such as the elderly, in order to ensure these individuals are aware they can still have access to a provider if they need assistance, from medication delivery to general medical questions.
In addition, patients are pre-screened over the phone when scheduling any in-person visits and GVHC clinics have been strategically divided into two categories: “well clinics”, where patients not experiencing illness or possible COVID-19 symptoms can receive care, and “sick clinics”, where patients experiencing illness or symptoms are cared for by providers and staff trained to take extra precautions with regard to personal and patient protection and environmental disinfection. Sites were designated as such with attention to location and distance from other access points to minimize any barriers to access necessary services throughout GVHC’s service area. Furthermore, staff outfitted in full PPE and specially trained for the task are stationed outside of every clinic to screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering GVHC buildings.
GVHC also initiated some of the first drive-thru testing sites in the region and with in-clinic COVID-19 testing, these services continue to be an integral part of the local health care system in responding to this pandemic. Since March, all GVHC sites have accounted for 14,000 COVID-19 tests conducted and counting, which along with the local health departments and other health care providers and labs, these are closely monitored to ensure necessary resources are available to those who test positive. Most crucial are the elements of education and prevention techniques that are offered to GVHC patients that will ultimately aid in flattening the curve and in hopes of decreasing daily positive cases, as well as mortality rates. With children preparing to commence their schools years, GVHC is also using the drive-thru model to begin conducting immunization clinics for children, which started in July 2020, and three more are slated to be conducted during National Health Center Week as a staple of the many activities scheduled for this eventful week.
The Central Valley has been identified as a hot spot for COVID19 among Latinos, we are conducting a huge effort around outreach, to ensure we can provide education to our essential workers in Ag, manufacturing, food processing and canneries. We work with the employers to set up a date that we can be on-site and have our outreach team arrive before their shifts set up a table with information on COVID19 prevention and testing as well as surgical masks and sanitizer. This has been very rewarding, as we have seen the ah-ha moment in their eyes as to the importance of being protected, informed, and that they matter. We are doing the same at migrant farm housing complexes, by partnering with other community organizations and providing information as well as food via porch drop-offs. As a matter of fact, during National Health Center week, we will be providing resources to 190 families at a Farm Worker Complex at a rural community, we have our very own Congressman Josh Harder who will be joining us!