San Pablo Clinic Gets Help From State to Care for Displaced Patients

The now-closed Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. (Contra Costa Health Services)

An urgent care clinic in San Pablo is getting $2 million in state funds to expand service to the community affected by the recent closure of deficit-plagued Doctors Medical Center.

That grant -- secured with the aid of state Sen. Tony Thurmond, a Richmond Democrat -- will go to LifeLong Medical Care, which in addition to its San Pablo facility runs clinics throughout the East Bay.

Marty Lynch, LifeLong's executive director, says the new funding will go toward expanding the clinic's hours. The facility is open from noon to 8 p.m. seven days a week; closing time will likely be extended to midnight.

The clinic treats about 50 people a day for non-emergency health problems like asthma and minor infections. Lynch says one of the clinic's major challenges is educating those who depended on the Doctors Medical Center emergency room for such care that LifeLong can take care of them.

"If you have some problem that we can deal with -- you know, you're not having a heart attack -- much better to come to us than to wait four, five, eight hours in the emergency room," says Lynch.

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Lynch says the clinic hopes to reach at least 80 patients a day -- the number of patients estimated to have relied on Doctors' emergency room for non-emergency care.

The new clinic employs some staff from the former hospital, to the delight of Jeffrey Adams, who came to the clinic with his daughter. She's being examined by her longtime doctor for abdominal pain.

"We would have definitely been over to Doctors for [this] because that's where she was born," says Adams. "So I like sticking with the same doctor."

Lynch says the new clinic isn't designed to entirely fill the void left by Doctors, which closed in late April.

For instance, patients with true medical emergencies must go to other hospitals in the surrounding area. And he notes a dearth of nearby specialists, such as cardiologists and urologists. He says many either left town when Doctors shut down or retired.

Lynch says one of the long-term obstacles to providing care to low-income communities in West Contra Costa County and elsewhere is the meager reimbursement that doctors get from state and federal health insurance programs for the poor and elderly. Those low reimbursement rates mean fewer and fewer doctors will accept patients on Medi-Cal and Medicare.

Lynch says he believes the solution to the problem will include a restructuring of both doctor pay -- more for primary doctors and less for specialists -- and better training.

"I think it's unlikely that Medi-Cal or Medicare will ever pay as much as commercial insurance," says Lynch. "My own feeling is that we have to train more primary care docs, and we also have to train more specialists who are interested in mission."

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Lynch says the key will be finding a way to encourage doctors to pursue careers serving low-income communities.

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