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Pressure Mounts on Community Clinics


A growing number of San Diegans are losing their jobs, and their health insurance. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg looks at the growing pressure people are putting on hospitals, doctors, and local community clinics. It’s the 2nd part of our series Rough Water: Navigating San Diego’s economy.


Robert Hill had a good thing going.


He was an administrator at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista. He had a nice salary. He had sweet benefits, too, with health coverage for himself, his wife, and their seven children.



(Photo:  Robert Hill is still looking for work, and health insurance. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS )


But last June, Hill lost his job.


To keep the same insurance, it would have cost him $800 dollars a month. That's half of what he makes on unemployment.


Robert Hill : It's just ridiculous, it's not even close to being something that is feasible, when you're holdin' on you know to every penny to try and pay your mortgage. So, we did not have the luxury of procuring, you know, that type of health insurance, so what we've done is we've rolled the dice, and not had health insurance.


Hill says his family is pretty healthy. But you never know.


Hill: So if something happens or we have to, you know, go see a doctor, we pray to God that it's not somethin' that is, you know, to a level that, you know, that is gonna send us even further into the abyss.


Fortunately for the Hills, San Diego has a network of community clinics. From Chula Vista to Oceanside, there are 95 of them.


These health centers treat anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. And they're seeing a lot of new business lately.


The Mid-City Community Clinic is in an old red brick church building in City Heights. This clinic is one of three operated by San Diego Family Care.


Roberta Feinberg heads up the organization. She says since the economy started to tank, they've seen a lot of newly uninsured people.


(Photo:San Diego Family Care CEO Roberta Feinberg oversees three community clinics. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS )

Roberta Feinberg: It's a trend that's accelerating weekly, at the moment it's somewhere between a five and ten percent increase, which is really quite a lot since the corporation among its three sites delivers 93-thousand medical visits a year.


Feinberg concedes there could come a time when they just wouldn't be able to accommodate everyone. She says they're not at that point yet.


Feinberg: We're hopeful that we can sustain this, because the mission of a community clinic is to serve its community, and be the safety net, in good times, and in bad. And these are bad times, and we actually feel quite good about fulfilling our mission, though the bottom line is very worrisome.


Other healthcare providers say the same thing.


Dr. Ted Mazer is an ear, nose, and throat specialist. He sees patients in his office right across from Alvarado Hospital.


 (Photo:Dr. Ted Mazer says our healthcare system is reaching the critical stage. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS



Dr. Ted Mazer and patient: What I'm gonna suggest to you, and I know you're feeling better after the recent course of steroids, uh huh…


Dr. Mazer says treating this patient's blocked sinuses is pretty easy.


Curing the broken healthcare system is another story.


Dr. Ted Mazer: If we continue on the cycle of higher unemployment, people losing their job, losing their health insurance, this is not sustainable.


Dr. Mazer is a former president of the San Diego County Medical Society.


He says Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made reforming California's healthcare system his top priority in 2007. Other lawmakers got on the bandwagon, too.


But that effort collapsed.


Mazer: It was hard enough two years ago, when the governor tried to do it in a better economic climate, and couldn't find the monies to do what needed to be done. Now there's no money even for what currently exists, let alone expansion.


Robert Hill says it's not right.


Okay, he hasn't had steady work for seven months. But he served in the military for eight years, and worked in the community college system for 15.


Robert Hill: And I'm saying, 23 years of service you mean to tell me if you have a break for seven months, we can't find some temporary solution for health insurance? You know, look, we need to fix this, and that every American citizen is entitled to decent healthcare. We're too rich of a country, not to have those things. 


President Barack Obama agrees, and is taking the first steps toward universal healthcare.


He recently signed a bill to expand federally funded health insurance for children.


For California to take advantage of this, the state must come up with about 300-million dollars. That could be tough given the state's budget crisis.


Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.     


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