Groundbreaking at Health Center 2019

READY TO GO — Groundbreaking for the New Russian River Health & Wellness Center is planned for Aug. 23 with West County Health Centers Board of Directors pictured from left: Josh Grig (GMH Builders co-founder), Jennifer Neeley (associate development director), Paulette Hall, Henry “Jake” Hamlin, Dr. DeEtte DeVille (deputy chief medical officer/medical director RRHC), Debra Johnson (vice chairperson). Mary Szecsey (CEO), John Kornfeld (chairperson), Mary Felton (secretary), Angeles David, Dwight Cary (treasurer), Meri Storino, Kathleen Sheridan.

They’ll take care of you no matter what — whether you’re broke, homeless or have no insurance.

The West County Health Centers’ clinics in Guerneville, Sebastopol, Forestville and Occidental are part of the national Community Health Center Program, the federally supported health care project that helps keep medical care accessible for more than 15,000 patients in western Sonoma County.

National Health Center Week starts next Monday as an annual celebration to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers over the past five decades. This year’s Health Center Week will celebrate the ways that health centers are “rooted in communities.”

In Guerneville they’ll break ground on the Russian River Health & Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art facility where medical, dental and behavioral health services will be consolidated under one roof. When it’s done the West County Health Centers facility will replace the temporary modular buildings at Third and Church streets where a fire destroyed the river’s medical clinic four years ago.

Groundbreaking takes place on Friday, Aug. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the wellness center site on First Street next to the Safeway.

Although it’s three weeks off, the groundbreaking ceremony “will be our main event” for celebrating National Health Care Week, said West County Health Centers Executive Director Mary Szecsey.

Another observance takes place next Tuesday, Aug. 6,  when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will present a Gold Resolution honoring all the community health centers in Sonoma County, said Szecsey.

Community health centers now serve more than 11,000 rural and underserved urban communities nationally, providing care for 28 million patients — a number that continues to grow along with the demand for affordable primary care, said the National Health Center media information about Health Center Week.

Now in its 45th year in Sonoma County, West County Health Centers, Inc. is a private, nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center, which means it receives grant funding from the federal government to provide quality health services to the whole community, regardless of ability to pay.

“We strive to provide a medical home for patients, ensuring that they experience continuity of care and have a secure place to come for all of their health care needs,” said Szecsey on the WCHC website. “Our expert team of professionals helps patients successfully manage and integrate wellness practices into their daily lives.”

The WCHC team comprises physicians, mid-level providers (family nurse practitioners and physician assistants), dentists, psychotherapists and nurses and is supported by medical and dental assistants, outreach workers and administrative staff.

“All of our employees are committed to providing compassionate and accessible care for all members of our diverse community,” says the WCHC website. “Many of our staff members are bilingual in several languages, including Spanish and Vietnamese.”

WCHC strives to provide accessible health care for:

• elementary age children whose parents cannot otherwise afford the medical care needed to keep them healthy and active in schools,

• those who are not accepted elsewhere due to HIV/AIDS, homelessness, mental illness or addiction, and

• those in the community who lack the financial resources to pay for quality health care, as well as many others. No patient is turned away from West County Health Center for lack of funds.

In 2015, WCHC provided over half a million dollars of uncompensated care for low-income and uninsured patients.

“More than 60% of our patients are living at or below the federal poverty level, and an estimated 300 people designated as homeless live in our service area,” said Szecsey.

The Russian River Health Center opened its doors to the community of West Sonoma County in 1974 and the neighboring Occidental Area Health Center opened in 1976.  Both of these health centers were started by community members and used doctors from the National Health Service Corps. After many years of collaboration, the two independent health centers formally merged as West County Health Centers, Inc. (WCHC) in January 2000.

The WCHC service area covers hundreds of square miles stretching from Fort Ross to Valley Ford and from the Sonoma Coast into Sebastopol, with an estimated population of 60,000.

Medical, dental, and mental health care services are delivered through seven sites: the Sebastopol Community Health Center, Gravenstein Community Health Center, Russian River Health Center, Occidental Area Health Center, Russian River Dental Clinic, Forestville Teen Clinic and the Forestville Wellness Center.

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