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Community health center follows its patients to Alhambra


320 S. Garfield Ave. #118
Alhambra , CA United States

In the Western San Gabriel Valley, roughly one out of four adults lack health insurance, and one out of five children do. Thousands have turned to the Chinatown Service Center, where nearly 50% of the patients served in the downtown center commute in from the San Gabriel Valley.  This month the center followed its patients east, opening a community health center in Alhambra. Individuals — regardless of insurance status — can receive health service in Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese and English.

“There’s such a huge need,” the Chinatown Service Center’s CEO, Lawrence Lue, said. “This is defined as a medically underserved community by the federal government.” While there are many private practices in the area, and a handful of volunteer-run clinics such as the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic and the Herald Christian Health Clinic in San Gabriel, there is no county run one between the eastern border of the city of Los Angeles and El Monte. The rationale behind the project, said Ruth Chu, director of the new center, is that “instead of having them go all the way to Chinatown, we should have a clinic here to be more convenient to them.”

The new San Gabriel CSC Community Health Center is a light-filled modern facility next to Planned Parenthood on Garfield Avenue just south of Commonwealth Avenue.  Up to 2000 patient slots will be provided with primary care, OB Gyn, and family planning. Lue said he also hopes to develop a pediatrics and geriatrics program. The clinic provides some free services and a sliding fee based on income, as well as accepting Medicare, Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and private insurance. It will also assist patients to apply for Medi-Cal. Patients are treated regardless of immigration status. Although the official opening ceremony was Friday, the center actually started accepting patients earlier this month and is functioning part-time until complete funding comes through, with two doctors and one nurse practitioner on staff.

The center will assist patients in crossing vital language barriers in a community where nearly one quarter of the residents live in households without an adult member who speaks English well.  “They didn’t speak the language and they didn’t have a voice,” Assemblyman Mike Eng said of the health problems facing many of his constituents. “How can we, in a land of plenty, on a street named Commonwealth, not share the benefits with those who have less?”

A center which focuses on Asian health issues, Eng said at the opening, will also help to identify specific problems to the 23 different nationalities that make up the San Gabriel Valley’s Asian and Pacific Islander community. Eng said too many studies are based solely upon the largest groups, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. The health problems, however, of smaller groups are often different, and overlooked.

Lue said that another problem was that federal health priorities, based upon the majority of Americans, also overlook health issues of greater prevalence to Asian Americans. He cited the example of hepatitis B, a preventable disease that when left untreated can be deadly.

Photo by David NgThe center is especially important to the San Gabriel Valley area, according to Lue, because there is a health-care provider shortage paired with the challenges of finding bilingual staff. Despite these challenges, the center is committed to creating an environment in four languages where patients are not forced to have a relative translate. “I know when I was growing up my mother would bring her kids with her,” he said, but that she would not have felt comfortable with her son translating her intimate health issues. “The challenge is always about language,” said Lue.

Contact the CSC Community Health Center — San Gabriel Valley:  (213) 808-1700 

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