Firehouse health clinic opens in Calif.

The medical center is the first in the state and aims to fill the void in the area's public health care

The Daily Review

HAYWARD, Calif. — A new health clinic is the first in the state to capitalize on people's trust in firefighters, opening its doors on the grounds of a fire station.

"We're going to where the people are and to a place they trust," said Alex Briscoe, head of Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

A celebration is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Friday at the clinic on Huntwood Road near Tennyson Road, with patients being seen starting sometime in December.

The clinic was built on city land, but the county paid the $1.2 million construction costs, with Hayward covering the cost of streetlights, IT equipment and other expenses, for a total of $2 million. The county will cover operating costs for the first two years, with Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center running it. The Firehouse Clinic fills a void in South Hayward, which previously had no public health clinic center serving adults. Tiburcio Vasquez runs the pediatric Silva Clinic on Tennyson Road.

"This is what the Affordable Care Act was supposed to do, bring low-cost health care to the people," Briscoe said.

Firefighter paramedics will be next door at the new Fire Station No. 7, though they will not staff the clinic."This is the first medical clinic integrated with a fire department in the state," Hayward Fire Chief Garrett Contreras said. "This creates a nexus between the health care system and the emergency medical system."The clinic will have extended hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.

"If we build health care systems for the people who work in them, not the people who actually receive care in them, you get what we've got, primary care from 9 to 5," Briscoe said. "We need primary care services that are open at the right time, accessible to the people we serve, doing the things that they need."

The goal is for patients to be seen within 72 hours of calling the clinic.

"Usually there is a wait to get into a clinic. You call today and you're not feeling well, but they can't see you for a number of days," said David Vliet, Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center CEO.

"Patients that need to be seen today will be seen today," he said. "If they want to be seen tomorrow, that's fine, but they will not have to go past 72 hours."

The clinic is designed to respect the patients' time, said Tiburcio Vasquez's Yvonne Camarena. Staff will review new clients' information to see what services they may be eligible for that day, such as Affordable Care Act insurance or Medicaid.

The clinic is wireless; medical practitioners will carry computer tablets so they can enter patient information into electronic records without having to turn their backs. Exam rooms have wheeled carts loaded with what is needed for that day's patients. It's designed to cut down on delays often blamed on looking for supplies.

An on-site lab will run basic tests such as ones focused on blood sugar and pregnancy.

"This will be a family practice. We will see everything from a stuffy nose to complex conditions," Vliet said.

"This partnership really advances the continuum of care," he said. "The person in their home with chronic diabetes who contacts firefighters regularly will now have a resource where they can receive primary care. And we're not spending precious dollars for our emergency responders to deliver primary health care."

More than 3,800 people likely will use the 2,400-square-foot clinic the first year, increasing to 10,000 by its third year, when it expects to be self-sufficient.

The clinic represents a push in health care to shift patients away from going to more costly and often crowded emergency rooms for maladies that could be treated for less in medical offices. Hayward's only emergency room is at St. Rose Hospital.

Both Briscoe and Contreras have advocated for paramedics taking on a larger role in health care; more than 80 percent of their calls are medical. Current state law puts restrictions on them; they cannot recommend a 911 caller to go to a clinic for treatment rather than an emergency room. Paramedics also are limited as to what treatment they can provide.

"We have a standing army of extremely well-trained first responders who for reasons that make no sense have been denied an appropriate place at the health care reform table," Briscoe said. "They have great skill; they respond to 911 calls every day. We think they can do more."

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