Origin Stories: La Clinica

Origin Stories: La Clinica

By Julie Wurth, Communications Officer, La Clinica

The year was 1989. “Rain Man” won the Academy Award for best film. Gas cost $1.10 a gallon. In Switzerland, a scientist developed the world’s first web browser. And in a little building next to the railroad tracks in southern Oregon, La Clinica del Valle Family Health Care Center opened to its first patients: migrants who had come to work in the region’s orchards.

A team of community leaders had seen the need for care for these new residents of the Rogue Valley and worked with area physicians to find staff qualified to offer culturally appropriate, accessible, and affordable care to them.

Jim Shames, right, works with a patient in the early ’90s.

That focus hasn’t changed in 31 years for the organization now known in the community as simply La Clinica, but so much more has.

  • Today medical, dental, and mental health practitioners at 21 care locations support nearly 30,000 patients in almost 175,000 visits each year.
  • About a third of all patients are Latinx and nearly 80% are low income, although La Clinica is open to everyone.
  • Nearly 4,000 of La Clinica’s patients experience homelessness and about 3,000 are agricultural workers.

La Clinica is known for an approach that offers more than a simple visit to the doctor’s or dentist’s office.

In an area with deep unmet needs for dental care, La Clinica operates a 34-chair clinic as well as a smaller dental office within another health center. It provides dental education, screening, and fluoride and sealant treatment in 27 schools. It provides screening and hygiene services in community settings.

On the medical side, clinicians work alongside nurses, medical assistants, wellness coaches, and mental health practitioners, all coordinating as a team to support patients.

The organization offers a variety of wellness classes and groups aimed at helping patients live their healthiest lives possible, and patients have access to acupuncture and physical therapy as well to help manage pain. La Clinica is the area’s largest primary care employer of practitioners who can provide medication-assisted treatment to people with substance use disorder.

As they have all along, La Clinica’s outreach programs provide a safety net for the region’s most remote and vulnerable community members. In addition to the school dental education program, it operates 13 school-based health centers. It also provides care to people living without homes via its mobile health center, a 40-foot vehicle that includes medical and dental exam areas.

La Clinica has met many community needs in its years of service, but never has community need changed as quickly as it has in 2020. In early March, as the COVID-19 crisis began to take hold, the organization opened—over a weekend—a respiratory triage clinic for patients with symptoms of the virus. La Clinica joined area hospitals and an urgent care clinic in testing in the community.

La Clinica mobile center staff get ready for a shift under Interstate 5 near the Bear Creek Greenway. The center moved to serve people living along the greenway during COVID-19.

The organization also pivoted services quickly so patients could be seen by video or phone visits instead of coming into the office. It beefed up its capacity to help with Oregon Health Plan enrollment and offered emergency dental care for the community. It moved its mobile health center to be stationed near an urban path where people without homes often sleep.

“The message we want to share with our community always, but especially now, is that we’re here,” said CEO Brenda Johnson. “We’re here for all who need us whenever they need us. That’s always been our story, and it always will be.”


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