La Clinica del Cariño’s new executive director, Daniel Ward, has lots of energy and enthusiasm for his new job. And that’s a good thing since he hit the ground running when he took the helm at the community health center in July and hasn’t stopped.
Ward is still learning the ropes from interim director Tina Castanares, whom he calls his “mentor,” while simultaneously overseeing six separate grants that will help expand La Clinica’s presence in the Mid-Columbia and propel it into the future.
“There’s a lot happening right now,” Ward said. “It’s exciting, and a little overwhelming.” Ward, a psychologist by training, spent several years in Michigan as one of the first ombudsman in the mental health field in the U.S., working with more than 40 private non-profit agencies to resolve conflicts so they could more effectively serve the public.
From there, Ward went on to found three mental health agencies in Michigan, followed by serving as director of a behavioral health emergency clinic where he oversaw 45 staff members in a cutting-edge, 24-hour-a-day clinic whose clientele was mostly psychiatric and substance abuse patients.
Most recently, Ward spent a few years in Seattle as marketing director for a dot-com company while his wife pursued a Ph.D. in psychology. He briefly served as director for the Washington Human Services Department in Longview prior to being hired as executive director at La Clinica.
Castanares, who served as La Clinica’s interim director from March through July when Ward arrived, said she and the health center’s board are “so happy to have him.”
“He’s got a lot of experience in administration of health clinics,” she said. “And he brings a behavioral health background to us, which is going to help us.” Castanares also cited Ward’s “great strength in partnering with other agencies in the community” as vital to La Clinica’s mission.
The multiple grants Ward is overseeing include $800,000 in federal monies that will allow La Clinica to establish a health clinic and a dental clinic in The Dalles, as well as expand the center’s Hood River clinic.
La Clinica serves patients in Hood River and Wasco counties as well as Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington. Until now, all patients have been seen at the sole Hood River clinic, or sought care through the mobile dental van and medical field clinics visiting The Dalles.
Ward hopes the new clinics in The Dalles — as well as a new modular office building set up alongside the Hood River clinic to house some staff, and interior remodeling to create more space — will ease the pressure on the local health center. Last year alone, the clinic absorbed almost 31,000 visits, serving more than 8,200 patients.
La Clinica has a staff of more than 70, including 10 family physicians and four dentists.
Other projects Ward is overseeing include a grant to add staff members to the health center’s Salud program, which works with patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension, and a remodeling of the center’s entrance to make it more user-friendly and welcoming. Ward also worked along with staff and a juvenile work crew recently to build a storage shed onsite to house maintenance items as well as bikes that employees ride to work.
As if his current workload wasn’t enough, Ward is already making plans to turn a section of La Clinica’s property into a community garden for nearby residents who don’t have yards of their own.
“I really believe in having the clinic be a partner in the community, and having the staff be participants in the community,” Ward said. His goal is to have La Clinica be “not just where you go to the doctor, but part of the neighborhood of the Gorge.” Ward says he’s impressed by how the Hispanic and Anglo cultures have meshed in Hood River and the Mid-Columbia.
“It’s not quite a bi-cultural community, but it’s on its way, and that’s such a treasure,” he said. “Anything we can do to nurture that is so important.” Ward cites La Clinica’s statistics as part of that measure; about half of the health center’s patients are Hispanic and half are Anglo.
In terms of running the clinic itself, Ward aims to keep it financially sound and well-equipped so the staff can “do what they do best.”
“I also want to continue making it a comfortable place for all people to come,” he said.