Written by The Business Journal Staff
The health centers will be operated by Clinica Sierra Vista in partnership with Valley Children’s Healthcare. The first center is planned for the Addams Elementary campus and should be completed by the fall, according to Ruben Chavez, the chief administrative officer for Clinica Sierra Vista’s Fresno office.
The other school sites getting wellness centers are Bakman Elementary School, Tehipite and Sequoia middle schools, and Duncan Polytechnic and Sunnyside high schools. The plan is to open two of these wellness centers a year over the next three years.
Clinica Sierra Vista already operates one existing health center on Fresno Unified’s Gaston Middle School campus.
Chavez said the new centers will resemble the one at Gaston. Each will consist of a modular building between 1,900 and 2,100 square feet and will be staffed by a medical provider, most likely a nurse practitioner, a medical assistant, an outreach and eligibility coordinator, a behavioral health consultant and administrative staff. An licensed vocational nurse office manager will likely be assigned to two of the sites.
Valley Children’s is providing the capital to purchase the buildings and equipment for the clinics, while Clinica Sierra Vista will license and operate them. In addition to the investment, Valley Children’s Healthcare CEO Todd Suntrapak said all pediatric doctors and nurses will come from Valley Children’s Medical Group. Clinica Sierra Vista will provide the other staff, including adult providers.
Suntrapak said there is a great need for accessible health centers like these.
“The federal government has designated the areas from Kern County to San Joaquin as medically underserved for care, and we know that means primary care, but also pediatrics,” Suntrapak said. “At Valley Children’s, we have a perfect sense of this need and want to be part of the solution so these kids can get care closer to home.”
Fresno Unified Board President Brooke Ashjian said he is excited that these clinics are headed for Fresno school sites as they will meet the needs of many students, parents, and those in the surrounding school community.
“This is a true partnership that will replicate Valley Children’s doctors and infrastructure at clinics on our campuses at no cost to Fresno Unified,” Ashjian said. “This is huge. Valley Children’s is taking their bank account and using its funds to eradicate obstacles to health care access for Fresno Unified students and those in the community. This is unprecedented for Fresno, and all we’ve done at Fresno Unified is capitalize on the opportunity.”
For students in particular, Ashjian said this will provide the access that so many need to treat common illnesses like asthma that can ultimately cause kids to miss several days of school if left untreated, as opposed to missing a couple hours at the doctor seeking treatment.
“A kid could have asthma and they may develop a bad cough. Untreated that turns into bronchitis, then pneumonia, and before you know it something that could have been a two-hour doctor’s visit becomes a three day stay at Valley Children’s and the kid misses a week or two of school,” Ashjian said.
Suntrapak said scenarios like this occur more often than they should due to lack of access. Within the neighborhoods where the six health centers will be built, Suntrapak said 38.9 percent of kids are living in poverty, and when they get sick, their parents may not even have a vehicle to get them across town to see a doctor. Some, he added, don’t even have bus access. Being able to walk to the doctor, and even see them before or after school can make all the difference, Suntrapak said.
“How many days of school do these kids miss because they are sick and aren’t getting the treatment they need? We know kids who miss school frequently don’t do as well academically and they need that education to achieve,” Suntrapak said.
With such a tremendous need, Suntrapak said the six wellness centers are just the beginning.
“Our current plan is to build two a year for the next three years, but now that we have a better understanding of Fresno Unified’s interest, we may move more rapidly,” Suntrapak said. “We know now that Fresno Unified shares the same goals as Valley Children’s and there will be more discussions on other future sites.”
Both Suntrapak and Ashjian said they would one day like to see a clinic on every Fresno Unified campus. With more than 100 school sites, Ashjian said the level of access that would be available to the community just from having clinics on each Fresno campus would be invaluable.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a clinic on each campus? What if everyone could walk to their doctor?” Ashjian said. “That would make such a difference in the health of this Valley.”
Suntrapak said the initial investment for the six wellness centers will be $4.5 million, but Valley Children’s is on board for additional sites.
“I believe this will be a sea change to greater medical access for kids in Fresno and Valley Children’s is excited to partner with Clinica Sierra Vista and Fresno Unified in taking this visionary step forward to create this opportunity,” Suntrapak said.
Ashjian said such a change wouldn’t be possible without leaders like Suntrapak.
“You don’t find too many leaders like Todd willing to invest this much in the community,” Ashjian said. “This isn’t beneficial to Valley Children’s bottom line, but it is extremely beneficial to the community and Fresno Unified is excited to be a part of it.”
Chavez said Clinica Sierra Vista is also excited to partner in bringing much-needed medical services to these underserved areas.
“The community is really stepping up and we’re all working together to improve the health of the community,” Chavez said. “When everyone participates, the community wins.”