By Karen Lauterbach
Venice Family Clinic, which has been providing high quality health care to the community for nearly half a century, is among the community health centers around the country celebrating National Health Center Week August 4-10.
This week is part of a national campaign to increase awareness about the myriad ways that community health centers provide affordable health care to communities. As the largest community clinic on Los Angeles’ Westside, Venice Family Clinic has been a leader in the health care revolution, offering comprehensive care to more than 27,000 men, women and children, regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status.
We are part of the nationwide network of locally run health centers that serve more than 28 million people nationwide. Community health centers are on the front lines of national public health challenges – whether caring for people experiencing homelessness, providing substance use treatment or responding to natural disasters.
Together, we save American taxpayers an estimated $24 billion a year in health care costs by preventing and managing chronic diseases. We serve more than one in six Medicaid beneficiaries for less than 2 percent of the national Medicaid budget, and we care for some 355,000 veterans nationwide.
Federal funding is vital to our nation’s community health centers, and the current year’s funding is due to expire on Sept. 30. That’s because Congress has previously been reluctant to commit to multi-year funding, but that might be changing. The Senate approved a measure that would provide five years of funding at $4 billion per year, while the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the REACH Act shortly before the August recess. It would provide a four-year extension of funding at $4 billion per year. The REACH Act awaits a vote on the House floor.
We are encouraged by these actions but urge all who support our community health centers to join us in advocating to ensure that funding continues without interruption. To become an advocate, please visit: https://www.hcadvocacy.org/takeaction/
Federal funding is critical not only to the health of patients but to the entire community because health centers are much more than healers. They are also innovators who look beyond medical charts to address the factors that may cause poor health, including poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, food shortages and unemployment. They collaborate and partner with hospitals, local and state governments, as well as social, health and business organizations to improve health for people who are medically vulnerable.
At Venice Family Clinic, we have partnered with hospitals and providers throughout the Westside and the region to serve our community. We have grown from a small storefront operation into 12 sites located in Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Inglewood and Culver City.
We have more than 1,300 volunteers, including nearly 400 physicians. With their help, the clinic provides comprehensive medical, behavioral health, dental and vision services, as well as substance use treatment, child development and health education and health insurance enrollment services.
Among our many programs, we began serving people living on the beach in the 1980s and that outreach grew as into Los Angeles’ largest “street medicine” program, providing health care to people experiencing homelessness where they live. Today, we serve as a resource for others by providing training in Los Angeles for the next generation of street medicine providers.
To further our outreach, we will be hosting a Homeless Services Day at our Rose Avenue clinic 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on August 7 as part of National Health Center Week. The event will feature free food, medical care, dental screenings, vaccinations, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, voter registration, Medi-Cal and Cal-Fresh enrollment applications and several other services.
On Friday, August 9, we will host a second event in honor of National Health Center Week. Friday Fun Day will be 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Colen Health Centers located in the Braddock Square Shopping Center at 4700 Inglewood Boulevard in Mar Vista. It will feature free food and refreshments and free services, including dental cleanings, immigration and job preparation help, community and childcare resources, exercise classes and a gardening workshop. The first 200 children will receive a free back-to-school backpack.
Please join us as we celebrate National Health Center Week and our proud history of serving the community by providing comprehensive care to those in need.
Karen Lauterbach is a program manager and advocacy leader at Venice Family Clinic. For more information, please visit venicefamilyclinic.org.