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New Ravenswood Family Health Center to debut Saturday

Multi-million-dollar facility ups care for low-income East Palo Alto, Menlo Park residents

After 15 years of operating out of modular buildings, Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto will host a grand opening celebration for its brand-new, 38,000-square-foot facility on March 28 from noon to 4 p.m.

The $39 million health center, which currently serves 12,900 very-low-income patients in family practice, pediatrics and reproductive health care, will double the number of clients it can handle by 2018. New services in the state-of-the-art facility include an optometry clinic, specialty geriatric services, mammography, X-rays and ultrasound.

The Health Center serves patients in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, from infants to seniors. Many have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and cardiac disease. The center offers comprehensive health services that include classes to help patients manage chronic diseases, mental health counseling, health education and preventive care, pregnancy planning, well-baby care, immunizations and counseling for domestic violence and crisis intervention.

"All the things that people need to support their health at a primary-care level should be available in the community, should be accessible, should be affordable and should be offered in a setting that people are drawn to," Executive Director Luisa Buada said.

The center, located at 1885 Bay Road, is a far cry from the previous beige buildings next to automotive shops along Bay Road — and from its early years when the center was called the South County Community Health Center and nearly folded before Buada came on board.

Now the colorful two-story building with white raven sculptures (representing the "spirit" of the raven in Ravenswood, Buada said) is the fruit of a vision for equal access to health care crafted by Buada, her staff, local health care leaders, nonprofit foundations, corporations and private citizens.

Buada said she was inspired to help immigrant and low-income patients after observing the poor health conditions of migrant workers in California. Women who could not afford maternity care gave birth in a hospital parking lot outside the emergency room, she told the Weekly. Now women will receive all levels of gynecological and obstetrical care in 10 exam rooms, as well as counseling for sensitive topics such as domestic violence and depression.

The spacious, sky-lit center is funded with multimillion-dollar donations, including from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan, John and Sue Sobrato, Palo Alto Medical Foundation/Sutter Health, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Cisco Systems, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Peery Foundation, Dick and Sue Levy, John and Jill Freidenrich, and Gordon Russell and Tina McAdoo. The center is now just $2 million short of its total project cost, said Kathleen Alexander, Ravenswood director of communications.

Ravenswood purchased the 3.15-acre property with help from the Sobrato Organization. The center, dubbed the John and Susan Sobrato Campus, now has 60 exam rooms — up from 27 — including triage, immunization and procedure rooms.

With expanded services and a greater capacity, the center can now address illnesses at the earliest stages, Alexander said. And patients who have mental health issues or personal crises will be referred to an on-site medical social worker. Two psychologists will coordinate care for any serious mental health issues through San Mateo Medical Center; pediatric mental health crises are coordinated through Lucile Packard Children's Stanford Hospital, Alexander said.

Having radiology and expanded laboratory and pharmacy services on site could also help save lives. Many patients do not have access to a vehicle, and some patients forgo a mammogram or getting medicine because getting to the county hospital in San Mateo or to a pharmacy is a hardship, Alexander said.

Electronic self-registration kiosks with instructions in English, Spanish and Tongan are aimed at improving efficiency. And a pharmacy with three cashiers will now serve all patients — up to 14,000 annually — compared to only 1,930 uninsured patients in the old modular building, Alexander said during a tour of the new facilities on Tuesday.

Each department is decked out in a different color — peach for women's services, soothing light blue for pediatrics — and signage for each department contains symbols for those who are unable to read, a toothbrush for dental care, a rib cage and lung image for radiology.

Every detail, from the tiny chairs and tables for children and playground outside to the art collection on the walls, considers the diversity and cultures of the Ravenswood community, Alexander said. Paintings and bas-relief sculptures were custom created for the building by the Mural, Music and Arts Project, and textiles and cultural symbols were carefully researched to include examples from African, Pacific Islander, Native American and Latin American cultures. An on-site Stanford Health Library is also available to the entire community, Alexander said.

The new medical facilities are scheduled to open for patient care in mid-April. Saturday's grand opening is free and open to the public. Festivities include live music and cultural dance performances, refreshments, ribbon cutting, a guided tour and remarks by East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier, Congresswoman Jackie Speier and other special guests.

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