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Financially strained and low on supplies, community clinics help fight the coronavirus

Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"Even if half of Californians end up with the coronavirus, if it's spread out over six months, then it's more likely there will be appointments and walk-in clinics and ventilators at hospitals to treat everybody who is at that level of need," said Steven Wallace, a professor in the community health sciences department at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "If it all happens in six weeks, then the lines at the clinics will look like the lines out of Costco."

The Watts Health Center had been open for only an hour when Williams and nine others sought urgent-care services on a recent rainy Thursday morning. They all reported having flu-like symptoms; more patients would come later in the day.

Community clinics and health centers are a vital part of the country's health care system but the current crisis has created revenue and resource challenges.

"The normal routine of a community health center is very different than what they're being asked to do right now," Wallace said. "They're set up for primary care, they're set up for a child coming in with an earache or an adult coming in for diabetes. They're not set up for a contagious pandemic."

"They don't have a stockpile of masks for their providers to wear," he added.

In Los Angeles County, more than 350 community clinics and health centers provide primary care and preventive services to 1.7 million patients a year, many of whom live in poverty or are uninsured, said Louise McCarthy, president of Community Clinics Association of Los Angeles County, a coalition of private and non-private community centers.


Unlike hospitals, clinics aren't equipped to have ventilators, but they do have test kits. But McCarthy said clinics and health centers are facing a shortage of such kits and other supplies.

"There are not enough masks, there are not enough gloves, gowns, goggles and all of that," McCarthy said. "It's a challenge. Every day we're trying to get a delivery of supplies."

She said some facilities have to turn to private sellers such as Amazon to obtain supplies, spending more than what they normally would. And with a small stock of test kits, doctors reserve testing based on the criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Sion Roy, president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, said the physicians group has tapped into membership dues to purchase $100,000 worth of masks and other personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.


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