San Ysidro Health Center has come a long way

By Leonel Sanchez
NOV. 7, 2009
U-T San Diego

SAN YSIDRO — The San Ysidro Health Center celebrates its 40th anniversary today with a gala in downtown San Diego. But much of the focus could easily be on the past two or so years.

The health care organization, which began as a volunteer clinic in a dilapidated house near the border, has been busy expanding and positioning itself for the future.

“Our mission is to provide quality care for the underserved and the uninsured,” Chief Executive Officer Ed Martinez said. “If we can do that through a grant or a new building or an acquisition, that just advances our mission.”

Since April of last year, the center has doubled the number of medical clinics it operates to 10, taken over a pediatric dental clinic and opened an $18.6 million facility for women and children at its main clinic on Beyer Boulevard.

With 60,000 registered patients — mainly lower-income Latino families from South County and southeastern San Diego — the San Ysidro Health Center is one of the largest community clinic organizations in the region.

“Those who know us are really amazed by the journey from the little casita  40 years ago to this building here,” said Martinez, referring to the Maternal and Child Health Center, which opened in May. The facility provides everything from prenatal care to pediatric dentistry.

The San Ysidro Health Center tonight will honor two of its founders, Carmen Martinez and Lupita Cazares, along with Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, and the California Endowment at the US Grant Hotel.

The health center was founded by a group of mothers who enlisted the help of the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine to bring health care to their community. UCSD wrote a grant requesting federal funds to open a community health center, and a small house was acquired from the California Department of Transportation. A larger clinic opened a few years later.

“They never had an idea that the first clinic here would grow into such a network,” Martinez said.

The San Ysidro Health Center today has a $50 million budget, employs about 650 people and operates 24 medical, dental, counseling and other services. About half of its patients have no insurance, and most of the rest receive Medi-Cal or Medicare.

County Supervisor Greg Cox said the health center has excelled in identifying needs in underserved communities and competing for program funding. “They’ve grown into one of the premier clinics in the San Diego region,” he said.

Cox worked with the center last year when it opened the South Bay Family Urgent Care Center on Fourth Avenue in Chula Vista.

Steve O’Kane, chief executive officer of the Council of Community Clinics, praised the center for rescuing three community clinics in Logan Heights, Lincoln Acres and downtown San Diego last year when it took over the financially troubled Comprehensive Health Care Center. “Because of their financial stability, they were able to step in,” he said.

Also, last month the San Ysidro Health Center, funded with $1.3 million in federal stimulus money, opened the Paradise Hills Family Clinic on East Eighth Street in National City. And in April last year, it assumed control of the pediatric dental clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

Martinez said the center is poised to take on more patients, especially if health care reform expands coverage to more poor and uninsured people.

“We have the building blocks in place based on our current growth for health reform,” he said.

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