Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Camarena Health Centers in Madera County has been going through something of a growth spurt this year.
They opened a new clinic in Coarsegold in February, followed by a school-based health center at Madera South High School in April. They also broke ground on a new clinic in June in Chowchilla. Now, they’ll be expanding their mental health program’s outreach with the help of a $90,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente to help promote the treatment of mental illness with young people.
Marie Sanchez, Kaiser Permanente’s community benefit manager, said that it was the Madera South clinic in particular that prompted them to make the donation.
“And that for us was a really integral step for them,” Sanchez said. “Because as we look to address stigma around mental health and behaviors, we’re really looking to see how to address that amongst a youth population.”
The grant money will be used by Camerena to create public service announcements and other means of raising awareness. According to a press release from Kaiser Permanente, the money is expected to serve approximately 2,500 high school students.
Students, however will not be the only beneficiaries. It is expected that 750 pregnant women will also be aided n accessing care, as post-partum depression is another issue that will be tackled with the funding. Camarena behavioral health manager Rosalba Serrano-Rivera said that this demographic tends to be overlooked in regards to public knowledge.
“Media does a really good job at glorifying pregnancy and after birth, and we feel like we should have this immediate connection and this immediate attachment to our babies, and that doesn’t always happen,” she said. “And when that doesn’t happen, we feel bad.”
The awareness campaign is expected to not only give new mothers information on treatment, but to help expecting mothers to receive preventative care. This includes Camarena’s “baby shower classes,” which provide them with education on how to care for newborns and what to anticipate after delivery.
The largest health care provider in Madera County, Camarena has made extensive outreach to lower-income families and patients in 12 clinical sites. According to Camarena CEO Paulo Soares, their growth has been aided by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and California opting into the Medicaid expansion. Currently 67 percent of their patients are on MediCal coverage.
Though Soares said they try to be methodical in setting up a new site, an exceptional circumstance may arrive that spurs a quick response. Such was the case when Coarsegold Medical Clinic suddenly announced its closure.
“When we see that there are gaps in services…or offices are closing down, or people are moving out to private practice, that creates an access issue for the members of the community, we will do our best to try and step in and do that,” Soares said.
The main focus at Camarena has been primary care. However, their scope of practice also includes dental, optometry, pharmacy, chiropractic and other services. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, Serrano-Rivera said that all of a patient’s treatments may be done in one go, including assistance in any obstacles in the way of treatment.
“We know that there’s a lot of barriers. So maybe that could mean they can’t miss work because they have to make their appointments, or maybe they don’t have health care insurance, or maybe they don’t have transportation to get here,” Serrano-Rivera said. “So we try to work with all those barriers.”
This assistance may come in the form of such aid as bus tokens and help with insurance. The organization hosts health fairs for the public as well, giving patients and residents information on diets, treatment and insurance options and a chance to receive a quick check on their health.
Camarena is also interested in supporting the next generation of health care providers. For 23 years, they have provided scholarships to students in the county pursuing careers in the medical community. It is their hope that these students will then return to Madera County and the rest of the Valley—perhaps even to work at Camarena, where some of them do their internships.