After 25 years La Clinica still going strong

June 29, 2011

It was the summer of 1986. The Chernobyl nuclear explosion had just occurred. Mad Cow disease was sweeping the U.K. The space shuttle Challenger disaster blew apart U.S. space exploration dreams. President Ronald Reagan began instituting "trickle-down" economics policy that would reverberate for decades to come on the lives of the nation's poor.

The sometimes discouraging and complicated picture of the world at that time was perhaps a fittingly dark background to what would become a shining star of local optimism and caring, La Clínica del Cariño Health Center.

This month, LCDC celebrated its 25th anniversary of operations. An alumni and staff fiesta was held June 26 to commemorate the silver jubilee and to review a quarter century of full-spectrum health care for uninsured and lower-income persons in the valley. More than 200 people attended.

"I'm just so proud of the huge amount of service La Clinica has given to the community," said Dr. Tina Castañares, reflecting on reaching the 25-year mark. "I'd like to see the Gorge community realize that we are as vital a part of this area as any hospital, library or school."

A special recognition award was given to Susan Gabay, a board member who has served LCDC for more than 20 years. Also during the celebration, previous employees, founders, board members and other involved community members gathered and reflected on both the history and future of the organization.

On June 2, 1986, at the corner of Rand and May streets in a 3,200-square-foot office, a small staff of health providers led by Castañares and Executive Director Colin Wood, worked under the LCDC board leadership of Manuel Gutierrez to open the doors to migrants and other farm worker families who brought in the harvests of Hood River.

Since that time, LCDC has relocated to Pacific Avenue and vastly expanded both its physical space and its compendium of services. Literally hundreds of employees and patients have been part of the LCDC community over the years.

"Being able to provide medical care for people without access or insurance is so important," said Dr. Brenda Colfelt, former medical director and current physician for LCDC.

The medical care at LCDC is provided by a large cadre of family physicians, a pediatrician and several mid-level providers, along with the nursing staff.

"We are a community health center, not just a migrant clinic, and provide care to everyone," said Colfelt, when asked what she hopes people will come to understand about LCDC.

In addition to medical care, LCDC offers dental care as well - and, both services are available to any community member seeking care. LCDC has been offering health care services in The Dalles and will soon be opening a new, expanded facility to meet that community need as well.

Never a free clinic, LCDC has always fixed its health service fees on a sliding scale, based on the patient's ability to pay. Those fees, along with numerous grants received from both private foundations and government agencies, keep the doors open and the children and adults of the valley in good care.

"We do have to staff afloat, but we are also a safety net. We have well trained medical personnel providing the full compendium of family practice medical care and everyone is welcome here," said Colfelt.

Education and outreach to the community have always been a hallmark of LCDC. To better deliver health care information, LCDC has designed and implemented many model delivery systems which have been replicated across the nation.

When LCDC opened, the rate of women delivering babies without prenatal care in the uninsured population of Hood River was almost double that of the rest of the state.

In response to local need, comprehensive prenatal and post-natal care delivered with the help of bilingual and bi-cultural health educators became and remained a focus for LCDC.

As a result, local uninsured women have received significantly improved access to care and follow-up services through a number of innovative outreach programs.

Amidst many challenges LCDC has continued to grow and continued to improve the lives of the patients under its care with the provision of high-quality health care. Something the whole community can celebrate.

A November 2010 federal grant award of $5,859,886 received via the Affordable Care Act under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will assist with renovation and construction needs and improving access to care for regional residents, including those served by LCDC in The Dalles.

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