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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

The association is working with vendors to set up a more efficient supply chain and has asked any of its 7,000-plus member physicians to apply for financial assistance for the supplies on its website.

"We are just trying to do whatever we can do to help, but it is a real challenge," Roy said. "Across the county and across the nation, it's a crisis."

McCarthy said many of the clinics and health centers have had to scale back services and tell patients not to come to the clinic or center unless they've been told to by their doctor or if they have an emergency.

"But that means they have seen a significant drop in the numbers of visits they have per day and that then connects us to a revenue problem, which is that clinics get paid by the visits," she said. "If you're not providing visits, you're not getting paid and how do you pay your staff?"

Public health officials have urged doctors to take visits over the phone or video conference. But for federally qualified clinics and health centers getting reimbursed by Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, that is currently not available. McCarthy said state and federal officials are working to make it possible. She said she worries that some clinics may end up closing in the end if the situation doesn't change.

"It's really scary times for us right now," she said. "We want to be open to the public and provide services and make sure patients get everything they need but also make sure our employees stay employed and have the health benefits we provide and the income that we provide them so they can pay their rent."


Doctors and nurses at clinics and health centers said they worry about the impact this crisis will have on the preventive care they have made a priority in low-income communities, where diabetes, mental health issues, heart disease and other problems are common.

The outbreak has forced the Watts Health Center, one of seven clinics operated by the Watts Health care Corp., to make organizational shifts while putting a strain on the clinic.

Dr. Roderick Seamster, president of the corporation, said the clinics are still seeing patients diagnosed with HIV, diabetes and parents who need WIC, the federal nutritional program for women, infants, and children. They've implemented a strict screening of patients and staff at every entrance. Many of the patients are told to sit outside if they have symptoms of the flu.

Seamster said the clinics are located in low-income neighborhoods, including housing projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts. The Watts Health Center provides an array of services, including dental, vision, pediatrics and a substance abuse program The center has two mobile units that provide free HIV testing and mammograms, both of which have been placed on hold because of the coronavirus.


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