BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Why would one of Kern County's health care safety net providers open up shop in what is generally considered an affluent neighborhood near Brimhall Road and Calloway Drive?
After all, most families who seek health care through nonprofit National Health Services Inc. are Medi-Cal or Medicare recipients -- or they have no health coverage at all.
The answer is simple, said National interim CEO Francisco L. Castillon. The need is there. Poverty and joblessness are not limited to older areas of Bakersfield.
On Tuesday, the Shafter-based nonprofit celebrated the grand opening of its newest clinic at 1014 Calloway Drive. The event, which included speeches, tours of the facility and music, marked the 13th clinic location for National, which until recent years had concentrated its services in rural locations in Kern County, such as Shafter, Wasco, Buttonwillow, Delano and Lost Hills.
"We provide health care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay," Castillon said.
The new clinic, dubbed Brimhall Community Health Center, has 7,600 square feet of space, including six medical exam rooms and a triage room, six dental rooms, three behavioral health offices, labs, a nurses station, offices and a board room.
The cost of the already existing building and upgrades was about $2 million, which came out of National's reserve fund.
But don't get the idea the nonprofit has $70 million or $80 million in its reserves, said Novira Irawan, National's chief financial officer and chief operating officer.
The reserves stand at about $2.5 million, but Irawan said she wants to build a bigger financial cushion for emergencies.
Castillon agrees, but cautions that the organization's mission to provide primary and preventive care to Kern residents should always remain front and center.
"Federal expectations suggest we have reserves to carry us up to six months," he said. "Anything beyond that we will reinvest in the community."
Formerly known as the Buttonwillow Health Center, National has grown significantly since it was founded in 1978. It now has close to 300 employees and serves close to 65,000 patients.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center, National receives about 10 percent of its funding from federal grants. Most of the rest comes from payment for service, whether it be through Medi-Cal, Medicare or even private insurance.
Like the larger Clinica Sierra Vista, National provides care primarily to under-served populations, including migrant and seasonal farm workers, and in recent years, the growing rolls of the unemployed.
By providing basic care, safety net clinics help reduce unnecessary and expensive utilization of hospital emergency rooms and inpatient hospital stays.
Castillon expects National will continue to grow.
The organization is looking at expanding to a site on Chester Avenue and another in the Panama Lane area, he said.