Health center opens renovated facilities

Monday morning, Gloria Guerin spotted a middle-aged man standing outside the AltaMed Huntington Beach Community Health Center. He didn't appear poor or homeless, but she noticed him looking bemusedly at the clinic's sign.

When Guerin approached him, he explained that he had recently lost his job and had no health insurance and asked if he could schedule an appointment. According to Guerin, an interim administrator for AltaMed's Orange County clinics, that's become an increasingly common occurrence.

The clinic at 8041 Newman Ave. completed a $1-million renovation in May and now has an expanding out-of-work population to serve with its new facilities. For decades, the staff has offered treatment to patients on Medicaid and others without jobs and insurance, and that population has grown more diverse of late.

"The population in the area is still getting used to the fact that you can come to a nice place like this and get treated without insurance," Guerin said.

The expansion, which took 10 months to complete while the clinic remained fully operational, added nine examination rooms, a procedure room, a blood testing lab, a call center, dental services and expanded waiting rooms.

Director of Development Michelle Burton said the clinic expects to increase from 33,000 visits to 45,000 visits annually, with an additional 4,000 patients. To accommodate the increased workload, the clinic will add three doctors, six medical assistants and three back office support staff.

While administrators are proud of the expansion, they also hope the new facilities will be enough. As crews prepared to start work on the building last year, the Obama administration passed its sweeping health-care reform, which seeks to eliminate many limits on insurance and make care cheaper and more efficient.

AltaMed, based in Los Angeles, planned the renovation partly in anticipation of the reform, and Guerin said the clinic may fill to capacity in 2014. That year, according to the White House's timeline, insurance companies cannot refuse policies to adults with preexisting conditions or impose annual limits on coverage, more people will be eligible for Medicaid, and health insurance exchanges will allow customers to shop for more affordable coverage.

For now, though, administrators said the influx of new patients appears to be more the result of a slow job market than laws that make insurance easier. Many of the new patients have been laid off recently and cling to middle-class status as best they can.

"The thing is, these are your neighbors," said former Mayor Shirley Dettloff, a member of AltaMed's Board of Directors.

The clinic plans to celebrate with an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, with Mayor Joe Carchio, State Sen. Tom Harman and Assemblyman Jim Silva scheduled as keynote speakers.

If You Go

What: Grand reopening of the AltaMed Huntington Beach Community Health Center

Where: 8041 Newman Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Friday

Cost: Free

Information: (323) 720-5660

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