“Our patients are working professionals, homeless community members, retirees, children, and everyone in between,” says Hilda Yepes-Contreras, site administrator at Del Norte Community Health Center, “I think there used to be a misconception that we only saw MediCal patients, but that just isn’t the case. We do quality care here, and the community recognizes that. We care for and about our patients.”
Hilda was with Del Norte Community Health Center when it opened its doors in downtown Crescent City in 1990. Since then, the clinic has moved to their upgraded site in the new Del Norte Community Wellness Center in 2007. The clinic has over 60 employees, ten of which are providers, and the staff see about 400-500 patients visits a week. Del Norte Community Health Center fills a need in this community explains Hilda, “Del Norte County is a medically underserved and provider shortage area. It can be a real struggle to deliver care to all in our community who are in need –but we work tirelessly as a team to bring or patients, our neighbors, the best care we can. All of us who work here are a community and we are part of this local community. We are deeply affected by the lives and health of those we serve.” Dr. Katrina Groves feels equally “This is my community too,” Dr. Groves says. “I want it to be the best community it can be. If I can help someone with one little problem, I’m doing my job. We work with people to get them what they need and that goes a long way. We are truly filling a need- if we aren’t delivering this care in the community, who will?” Katrina explains that this work couldn’t be done without this community health center. “We are about peoples’ lives. It’s the person who is important.”
Being members of the community, the staff at DNCHC take it upon themselves to go the extra mile to serve their neighbors. Hilda explains that they “do what we can to meet the needs of our patients. We have an armoire in the clinic lobby full of gently used clothes that patients are welcome to help themselves to. It’s just a small effort but we know it makes a huge difference to those who benefit from it all.”
In many cases the need to work in areas that are underserved medically is the driving force that brings DNCHC, along with all the clinics of Open Door, so many talented health care providers. Dr. Christian Holland felt that force, “Providing a service that is out of reach for some of our patients is really meaningful for me, and has become an essential part of the care I deliver. My staff and I work to fill the need-essentially seeing patients who need to be seen. It is so satisfying to know that no one is being turned away.” Provider Jesse Vos, PA-C, agrees “many of our patients face barriers to accessing quality care, whether it’s because they do not have insurance or cannot travel due to financial or physical restrictions. We are Open Door and we do what we say we do-we do everything in our power to open doors of access for all who need medical care in our community.”
While access for care to every member of the community is of the upmost importance, there is also a need to provide all around care; care for the well-being of the whole patient. Dr. Alexander Wade has been practicing pediatrics at DNCHC for five years and understands the importance of compassionate care, “Social and mental health are extremely important to the well being of the child in addition to development and physical health. I strive to provider compassionate care of the total person.” Dr. Holland elaborates to say, “I practice internal medicine and I provide my patients with a full scope of care for adult primary care needs. We want the community to know that if you are suffering from any type of mental of physical problem; we are here to assist you in achieving your goals of reaching health.”
The object of reaching any goal is to be proactive in that aim continues Dr. Holland, “We are dedicated to partnering with our patients and I believe that patients shouldn’t be passive in their health care.” Jesse furthers the idea of collaborative health care, “My primary objective is to assist patients in managing their own care. I’m here as a facilitator to help patients understand the elements of their health and care plan necessary to achieving wellness. It is up to our patients, and their own will power to be as healthy as possible- we are here to encourage and support that process.”
Dr. Katrina Groves works to inspire patients to be proactive in their health care. Instead of traditional family practice Dr. Groves sees patients for women’s health care and teen clinic, procedures, and facilitates the suboxone program for opiate dependency. The group that Dr. Groves has established helps yet another aspect of the overall well-being of patients. “My medical assistant, Susan Hintz, and I have worked with the suboxone group from the ground up. There is a huge need for this program in Del Norte County,” Dr. Groves explains. “I adore the care we deliver through this program. The program isn’t about passing out prescriptions. We help patients to realize their health goals and move towards them.” Twenty-five people are currently in the program. “If they fall out, we want to work with them so they learn the steps it takes to stay clean. We are helping people get their lives back together. We’ve helped people get clean who have gotten their kids, houses and jobs back. This is the sort of impact we strive for. If you are serious about quitting your addiction and getting clean we want you to come here. To get established in the Suboxone group a person needs to first establish themselves as a patient with a primary care provider at Del Norte Community Health Center. The patient can tell the front desk (if they are comfortable) or a provider that they need help with drug addiction”.
Dr. Groves also leads Teen Clinic, which is about education and direct patient care to help young people make healthy choices and receive the care they need. “In Teen Clinic we provide patients with information on abstinence, body image, self esteem, and education to not get pregnant early. We have two Teen Advocates on staff and are coming in every week. It’s important for teens to know that they can come in any time, not just during designated Teen Clinic hours- walk in and tell the front desk you need to be seen.”
Carolyn Dikes was an EMT before starting as an MA in 1990, her mother was a RN before that. Carolyn always knew what she wanted to do and when Open Door called her to action in 2000 she felt confident to take the MA position with Del Norte Community Health Centers. “I really liked the mission of the organization,” and came to work with DNCHC in the fall.
While working Carolyn began to feel that she wanted to do more, learning something new every day with the infectious disease doctor she was working with. Carolyn wanted to advance her career in healthcare and also work to help address the provider shortage in her community, “so I completed my prerequisites at College of the Redwoods and went to UC Davis for Physician’s Assistant school, graduating in June 2009. My husband came out of retirement and came to work for Open Door as Medical assistant while I was in PA school.” Carolyn now covers a broad scope of health care interests; Family Practice, HIV clinic, and Teen Clinic.
Carolyn’s goal as her role as a health care provider: “Educate patients to be self sufficient. Our staff at DNCHC is committed to helping patients be as healthy as possible. Challenge to patients and community to prioritize the same level of commitment and dedication to person health that DNCHC staff is committed to for patient health and wellness.”
Carolyn is not the only member of Del Norte Community Health Center’s staff that was inspired by their position within the community of the clinic to further their career. Christina Fosdick was a new graduate from Del Norte High School and found a position at DNCHC, she was hired on as a MA that would train on the job, and from there the rest is history, “I absolutely fell in love with the work here. I am committed to the clinic and the care that we provide. At this point I fill the need where ever I am needed. Once I am done with my LVN program and working in that capacity, I want to continue my education and work towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I’ll have to leave the area to achieve that degree objective, but I want to come back to the Open Door clinic. I was raised in this community, I married my sweet hard from junior high school; we are committed to giving back to the community. Providers are needed here, and especially providers committed to working in this community for the long term. I want to fill that need.” Christina feels that the staffs at DNCHC are there to help their community, “We understand that it’s frustrating to navigate barriers to accessing quality care. Our goal is to give the best care we can. This job has inspire me to push myself further in my career and my service to the community than I ever imagined
Cheyenne and Hilda always envisioned a playground at the clinic and that vision evolved into a community garden tended by community members, patients and staff. “Everyone is so thankful we have the garden here at the clinic. We love walking the opportunity to step away from our busy work for a short break in the garden. The stress reduction effects have become enormously important. People who have never gardened in their life beam with pride and excitement because they have vegetable to feed their families with.
Katrina Groves, MD, tells us that “this will get people outdoors and learning to grow things for themselves. Healthy foods and self sufficiency for people who have no yard or garden opportunities, also help with mental issues; depression and anxiety can be channeled into healthy, meditative activity and also meeting new people, learning to work together will improve the health of the community as a whole.” Dr. Groves continues to explain, “We are only as healthy as our sickest people. In other words, if a community does not work to improve the health and well being of our most struggling citizens, the community as a whole suffers. The garden is a symbol in action. By its very existence the garden brings people together and allows nature to offer a profound healing experience. Watching and helping things grow, for someone whose life was defined by people who stunted their growth and abused them, is powerful therapy. Our recent Tsunami experience has increased awareness of the importance of self reliance as well. People can learn to feed themselves more cheaply than buying grocery store food. Diabetes, Obesity, and HTN will improve with the improved dietary changes. Chronic pain and arthritis will improve as people are moving their joints [physical therapy]. This is such an extraordinary project and so good for our community – I am so thankful to all those who have made this happen and excited to see the changes that occur.”
Jesse Vos agrees with the importance of a community wellness garden, “I encourage patients to become involved in our Wellness Center Garden. I have one patient who is out there every day. There is so much natural beauty in this area and it’s amazing that people aren’t utilizing it to its potential. It’s important to individual health for people to take the time to get outside and take full advantage of the scenery and natural beauty here in Del Norte County- it’s really a treasure. The Wellness Center Garden project allows patients and community members to grow and access healthy and nutritious foods. I tell my patients, ‘your body builds itself from what you put in it every day’ and the garden provides an opportunity to grow your own food to fuel your body. The garden is also a tool for showing people they can enjoy themselves outside. When I am treating patients for depression or anxiety I prescribe the outdoors to them as part of their care plan. If people just went outside and went on a 10 minute walk near the ocean, forest or even in our garden I think they would realize improved health overall!”