The Venice Family Clinic is marking its 50th year with an online fundraiser. Courtesy photos.

In Oct. 1970 the Venice Family Clinic opened as a small nighttime center offering free healthcare to the poor and largely Black and Latino community in Venice. Now the clinic has 14 locations, 19 programs and services, and works with around 28,000 patients annually. In 2020, as America undergoes another reckoning with race, the clinic is celebrating 50 years of fighting for justice in healthcare through a Zoom party fundraiser and a week of volunteer activism.

At 6 p.m. on Oct. 11, the ‘Health, Justice, Action Kickoff Party’ will go live on Zoom and YouTube, featuring appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Ray Romano, Jennifer Hudson, and several more celebrities. Then, from Oct. 11 to 17, the clinic will host a ‘Week of Action’ where volunteers can contribute to the clinic in several ways like creating hygiene kits, distributing meals, donating supplies, and helping register patients to vote.

“At Venice Family Clinic our goal is to provide care that is of such high quality that everyone in the community wants it, but it’s only for people who have no other access or who have difficulty getting access. And, hopefully one day everyone will throw their doors open to all of the people,” said Elizabeth Benson Forer, CEO of Venice Family Clinic.

The clinic was founded by Dr. Philip Rossman and Dr. Mayer Davidson on Oct. 12, 1970 to provide free quality healthcare to the many local residents who had no health insurance. In the early days, the facility operated at night in a borrowed dental office and relied entirely on volunteers and donated medicine.

“The clinic started in response to healthcare and racial injustice. In Venice there was a very poor population back in the late sixties, and there was one doctor who saw Medicaid patients once a week. If you got sick on that day that was great and if you didn’t, you tried to get care at an emergency room,” said Davidson, Co-founder of Venice Family Clinic. “When we opened in the evening of Oct. 12, there were long lines stretching around the corner.”

While demand never faltered, the clinic’s funding did several times over its first eight years of operation. According to Davidson, the clinic first gained its financial footing through its Art Walk fundraiser in 1978, which has continued every year since including through a virtual event this year.

Year after year the clinic has continued to expand to provide robust and holistic healthcare services to the neediest populations. Today the clinic offers primary care, dental, vision, behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, health education, street medicine for those experiencing homelessness, HIV prevention and treatment, free food, and several more services.

“We are unique in the way we have integrated all of our care. Frequently one person will pass a patient off to another person in the course of their visit here based on the needs of that patient. It could be that our provider calls in the health educator to spend more time around diabetes care or that the provider recognizes depression and links the person up with a social worker who they will continue to see on a regular basis,” said Forer.

Seventy-five percent of the clinic’s patients are below the federal poverty line, 36 percent speak Spanish as their primary language, and 16 percent are homeless. Over half of the Board members are patients and their input plays a primary role in determine how the clinic expands to meet the needs of the community.

“The medical care we provide there is really outstanding. The providers who work there are really dedicated to these patients and really go out of their way to engage them. To provide such good and engaging and loving care to a patient population that is so much in need of it, that’s the tremendous feedback of doing all this,” said Davidson.

The public is invited to register for the Kickoff Party and Week of Action as well as learn more about the Clinic’s 50th Anniversary by visiting School supplies and hygiene kits can be delivered to Venice Family Clinic’s Santa Monica site, Simms/Mann Health & Wellness Center, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 15. It is located at 2509 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405.