I wanted to thank the Independent for it’s coverage of the financial crisis at The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, which did a good job outlining some of the “whys” behind the current state we are in. However, I think Nick Welsh gave short shrift to the work that we do at the clinics, summarizing it as “providing low-cost medical services to about 16,000 patients, who overwhelmingly are low-income and predominantly Latino.” Of course our patients are low-income: Our mission is “to provide high quality, affordable, comprehensive healthcare to all people, regardless of their ability to pay, especially those uninsured and otherwise underserved, while maintaining a welcoming environment and treating patients with compassion, dignity and respect.”
That kind of care doesn’t come cheap. But the alternative, I’m afraid, is even more frighteningly expensive: hospitalizations for heart attacks that could have been prevented with good diabetic control, lifelong disability for someone after a stroke that could have been prevented with good blood pressure control, death from colon cancer that could have been treated early and effectively with a colonoscopy.
In an era where clinics will be paid for performance, we will shine – our statistics on the control of our diabetics patients are far better than the national goals, we have recently become the largest cooperative program to screen uninsured patients for colon cancer in the country (along with Sansum Gastroenterology), and, thanks to a generous donation from the Elings Foundation, have recently had our 400th patient receive a screening colonoscopy. We have diagnosed many precancerous polyps and prevented many cancers in our community.
Our child patients have some of the highest immunization rates in the county and two of our pediatricians have been honored as Primary Care Champions by the Pacific Coast Business Times for the past two years.
These are just a few of our lifesaving, innovative, and successful programs. There are many others that our run through our Eastside Dental Program, our Health Promotions Department, and through the everyday commitment and hard work of our staffs.
I’d also like to point out that though our patients may be underinsured, and low-income, many are highly respected and well-known members of the Santa Barbara community. I myself have numerous patients that are respected artists, musicians, and chefs, that are simply unable to afford the cost of health insurance as self-employed individuals. We also care for a large and well-loved group of developmentally disabled adults with multiple medical conditions, and I know Pathpoint, Work, INC, and these patients’ families are thankful we are here for them.
I have worked in a number of similar-sized towns around the western USA and was highly impressed when I began working at Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, at the quality of care we can provide, consistently, to such an underserved population. It’s an “underside” that most of Santa Barbara has had the ability to ignore, as we have quietly provided health and dental care to this population. I urge this most generous and well-endowed city to dig deep again and support a neighborhood gem, maybe in the rough but incomparably valuable nonetheless.
Susan Lawton is the lead physician for the Westside Community Clilnic