By Kathleen Alexander, communications director, Ravenswood Family Health Center.
As health care reform is debated on the national stage, a local health clinic in Menlo Park quietly carries out its mission to ensure that no one is excluded from receiving health care because they can't afford it or don't have insurance or because they have a pre-existing condition.
The Belle Haven Clinic, tucked between the Onetta Harris Community Center and Senior Center, makes health care accessible to all who walk through the door. It is part of Ravenswood Family Health Center (RFHC), a federally qualified community health center that belongs to a movement dating back to the 1960s, when poor people had little hope of getting health care. A cardinal principle in the community health center movement is that everyone needs to be able to get primary medical care.
When Marta Alvarez first came to the Belle Haven Clinic, she was struggling with depression compounded by poorly controlled diabetes. A refugee from violence in Guatemala, she fled to America 30 years ago. Leaving family and a profession was costly and finding her place in her adopted country was challenging.
She says that what helped her most wasn't simply being able to get health care at Belle Haven, but rather the kind of health care she receives. She recalls how the receptionist Yuliza Elias first greeted her, "How are you beautiful lady." The warmth of staff, their interest in her wellbeing started her on a road back to health under the guidance of Ivonne Velado, FNP, her medical provider. Velado speaks Spanish, so Marta talks freely with her. "She is like a travel companion or a supportive guide on my road to health." Marta has learned to value her health and make the best choices.
As a community health center, the clinic provides far more than primary medical care. It is a gateway to a family of services including prenatal care, chronic-disease management, and access to dental care and mental health counseling.
Last year, 11,000 patients received care in a total of 78,000 service encounters at Ravenswood's medical, behavioral health and dental clinics. The majority live in the multi-ethnic communities of East Palo Alto, Belle Haven and North Fair Oaks in Redwood City; 96 percent live at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty threshold (earning $23,050 for a family of four).
Nationally recognized in 2012, RFHC received a Health Innovation grant for its chronic care model that motivates behavior change in complex chronic-disease patients, thereby reducing costly ER visits or hospitalization. Ravenswood has a multi-dimensional approach that incorporates self-management training, health classes on nutrition, and cooking to improve diet. It throws in a class on organic gardening at its patient garden that now has a healthy crop of winter vegetables.
Belle Haven Clinic at 100 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park is a satellite clinic of Ravenswood Family Health Center, based in East Palo Alto. To reach Belle Haven Clinic, call 321-0980 or the main clinic at 330-7400, or go online to ravenswoodfhc.org.