By Lauren Whaley, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

(LaurenWhaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

Dr. Paul Gregerson says November 7, the day after the election, was a “very good day in my life.”

“The Obama election is very good news, let me tell you,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Gregerson’s joy — and relief — stems from his role as chief medical officer at the John Wesley Community Health Institute in Los Angeles. Gregerson sees patients daily at the Institute’s clinic in downtown LA’s Skid Row neighborhood.

He sees Obamacare (and California’s full-steam ahead movement on it) as a way to increase quality health care to his patients. About 20 percent of them are currently enrolled in Medi-Cal. Come January 2014, when the president’s Affordable Care Act goes into full effect, about 80 percent will qualify, he says.

Under the new law, the clinic will get reimbursed for more of the patients it already sees — and for many of the new patients it expects to see. About a million more Angelenos are expected to get health insurance. Studies show that people visit the doctor more often when they’re insured. Community health centers have been planning for an explosion of new patients for several years.

With more reimbursements for newly insured patients, Gregerson and his team will be able to hire more employees, which, in turn, will allow his clinic to serve more patients. He also expects clinics to deliver a higher level of service and higher quality of care because of increased competition for patients.

“For the health center, the things that we’ve already put in motion will continue to run the course,” he says. “The creating of new programs, money that’s been spent on remodeling and hiring new people, will move forward and will even accelerate.”

As I reported in a story for KPCC Southern California Public Radio, Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like this one have already been ramping up their services and sites. They have become the darlings of the Affordable Care Act, with their patient-centered medical home team approach.

“It improves their attachment to the clinic because they’re not only attaching to a physician, they’re attaching to a whole team,” says Al Ballesteros, CEO at JWCH Institute. “Their mental health, physical health, their nursing needs, their laboratory needs, their specialty referral needs, their needs for benefits, their needs for housing access, (are) all handled by a team.”

Ballesteros says community health centers help monitor chronic diseases, focus on preventive care and keep people away from expensive emergency room visits.

The JWCH Institute hasn’t been the only FQHC ramping up. Advocates say that the recession has introduced middle class Americans to community health centers.

In California, the number of patients seen at FQHCs rose from 2.7 million in 2009 to 3.1 million in 2011.

Nationwide, patient numbers are expected to jump from the current 20 million to 40 million by 2015.

As for JWCH, its centers have been bombarded. In 2009, JWCH clinics provided 59 thousand primary care visits. They expect to have almost twice that number by year’s end.

“We started out here eight years ago with a clinic down here,” says Gregerson of the Skid Row location. “And just because of the demand, we’ve added a clinic in Bell Gardens, in Norwalk, in Lynwood. We just opened one in Bellflower about six or eight months ago.”

We’re all human,” he says. “Everybody deserves to be taken care of.”

Health Clinics Continue Growing — and Preparing — for January 2014 19 November,2012Lisa Aliferis

  • Dale

    The rapid growth of health centers, although positive, will be difficult to keep up with from a financial reimbursement standpoint as they attempt to expand operations. Centers that with visionary upper management that are maturing from a once homegrown organization are now realizing not all business functions are best served at the ground level in times of rapid expansion. This has created a huge boom for RCM companies (take Priority Management Group PMG for example), who dominate in the FQHC revenue space. I suspect that the need for their services will grow tremendously over the next 1 to 5 years. Especially given that grant cutbacks for health centers are on the horizon as well as a move to a more Fee for service model placing importance on coding selections (ICD-10).


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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