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Access To Care Challenging In San Diego County’s Backcountry

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

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The Community Health Center in Campo sits in a double-wide trailer. Other than Indian Health Services on the Campo Indian Reservation, it’s the only place to get care in an area that spreads over 950 square miles.

Photo caption: Nurse practitioner Carol Lieber is shown in her Campo office, Oct. 1, 2015.

Photo credit: Nic McVicker

Nurse practitioner Carol Lieber is shown in her Campo office, Oct. 1, 2015.

Here’s something you probably won’t hear in a doctor’s office in La Jolla:

"He seemed to think me getting kicked by the calf caused the blood clot," a patient told nurse practitioner Carol Lieber.

Lieber has heard this kind of thing before. She works in the East County town of Campo, where being kicked by a calf or cut by a chainsaw are routine complaints.

“But I think the thing that gives me the adrenaline," Lieber said. "I’m not necessarily an adrenaline junkie by any means, it's never knowing who’s going to walk in the door and what they’re gonna need."

The city of San Diego is home to numerous primary care doctors and medical specialists. But it’s a different story in San Diego County’s backcountry, where access to care of any kind remains a major challenge.

Photo caption: Mountain's Health Campo clinic is shown, Oct. 1, 2015.

Photo credit: Nic McVicker

Mountain's Health Campo clinic is shown, Oct. 1, 2015.

The Community Health Center in Campo sits in a double-wide trailer. Other than Indian Health Services on the Campo Indian Reservation, it’s the only place to get care in an area that spreads over 950 square miles.

A doctor comes here once a week. Otherwise, for 16 rural communities, Lieber is it.

“Some of the worst case scenarios we’ll see are patients that are on medications that need a high level of monitoring," Lieber said. "And they live down a five-mile dirt road, they have no transportation, spotty cell phone service, and they can’t necessarily get back in here on a regular basis.”

That’s when Omar Acevedo comes to the rescue.

Five days a week, Acevedo picks up patients and brings them into the clinic.

“I got a client way back in the mountains," Acevedo said. "I drive like for 15 minutes on dirt roads. It’s like, OK, I’ll get there someday.”

The nonprofit Mountain Health operates community clinics in San Diego, Escondido and Alpine.

In contrast to those well-equipped facilities, Mountain Health's Campo clinic doesn’t have its own lab, or X-ray machine. And the closest hospital? Grossmont in La Mesa — about an hour’s drive from here.

Photo caption: The telemedicine device at Mountain Health's Campo clinic is shown, Oct. 1, 2...

Photo credit: Nic McVicker

The telemedicine device at Mountain Health's Campo clinic is shown, Oct. 1, 2015.

You can forget about specialists in this part of San Diego County. But Mountain Health’s Christy Coronado said mental health care is available through the clinic’s telemedicine service.

“So this is our telemedicine," said Coronado as she pointed to a large monitor with a special camera on top. "It allows us to call down to anyone of our other facilities. Right now, we are connected to our Alpine location. So at this point during a visit, the provider would come in, sit down, the patient’s here, and then they can consult with one another via telehealth.”

Some people live in Campo for the wide-open spaces. But others move here because they can’t afford to live in San Diego.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of poverty in this area. That’s why Mountain Health goes beyond the call of duty, and provides hot meals to local seniors in need.

Staff prepare the food from scratch. They cook up 150 meals three times a week. For people who can’t make it into the community center to eat, drivers will take the food to them.

Coordinator Esther Matos said some of their clients live in isolation.

“The driver that we send out there is probably the only person that they will see for awhile," Matos said. "So, we actually take a lot of pride on that. The client actually gets to socialize, and they get to spend a lot of time with the driver.”

Mountain’s Health CEO Judith Shaplin grew up in this area. And for as long as she can remember, people have been clamoring for more medical services.

Photo caption: Mountain Health's CEO Judith Shaplin is shown, Oct. 1, 2015.

Photo credit: Nic McVicker

Mountain Health's CEO Judith Shaplin is shown, Oct. 1, 2015.

They’re finally going to get them.

Mountain Health is getting ready to build a two-story medical complex that will offer a wide array of services, including the region’s first dental clinic.

The complex will cost $9.8 million. Shaplin said they’ve secured most of the funding through federal grants and loans. They’ll have to hit up donors for the rest.

Shaplin said it’s taken decades of hustling, planning and fundraising to make the new structure a reality.

“And it’s an amazing experience to see a vision and a dream that the community had, that I personally embraced because I was a member of this community, and then to see it actually happening," Shaplin said. "It truly is a dream come true for us.”

The new clinic represents a major upgrade for rural health care in San Diego County.

It should be open for business by the end of 2016.

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