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2 Clinics in Northeast L.A. Expand : Facilities Sorely Needed in Area With Many Poor, Few Doctors

January 29, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

In Northeast Los Angeles, which has only one doctor per 9,131 residents, according to federal statistics, two former storefront health-care clinics have opened new and expanded facilities within blocks of each other on Figueroa Street.

Health-care officials say the low-cost clinics are sorely needed in the area, where many poor families cannot afford private health care.

"They're doing a good job and providing a much-needed service," said John Bruce, public health adviser for the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Last week, on opening day of the Arroyo Vista clinic, "we had patients waiting in line at the door to get in," said Gloria Kies, the clinic's development director.

Double Patient Load

She said the center is expected to see 40,000 patients in 1987, more than double the patient load in 1986. Situated at 6000 N. Figueroa St., the 60,000-square-foot center cost $1.2 million to build and equip and offers everything from cardiology and orthopedics to neurology and dental care. The Arroyo Vista clinic is financed mainly by federal grants.

The Northeast Community Clinic, which opened last month at 5809 N. Figueroa St. and cost $175,000, is financed by city, county, state and private grants, said Executive Director George de la Mora. Tucked away on the second floor of a mini-mall where Ivers Department Store once stood, the clinic focuses mainly on pediatrics, family practice, family planning and prenatal care, De la Mora said. On a recent afternoon, the lobby was packed with young pregnant women and mothers holding babies.

Herlinda Aguilar of Highland Park said she visits the Northeast Community Clinic regularly with her four children.

"I like going there because of the good attention. They understand my problems and the prices are not too high," she said through an interpreter.

Both clinics have bilingual staffs and offer medical services based on a person's ability to pay. Latinos account for about 85% of the patients at each clinic, administrators said, although Kies said Arroyo Vista is drawing an increasing number of Asian patients. Asians have moved into predominantly Latino Highland Park area in recent years and now constitute 6% to 8% of the population, administrators said.

Neither clinic sees the other as competition. "There is plenty of room for both of us here," Kies said.

Added Elizabeth Feria, outreach educator for the Northeast clinic: "The demand for medical care in the community is very great. We have our work cut out for us."

Besides medical care, both facilities provide referral services and health education, family planning classes and other social services.

Welcomed by Merchants

Merchants say they hope the added traffic from the two clinics will raise sagging retail sales along North Figueroa Street, the community's main thoroughfare. Robert Siraganian, owner of a sandwich shop across from Arroyo Vista, said he had planned to close his business but changed his mind when the clinic opened.

Community activists also praise the clinics. "The new buildings are really an improvement to the area," said Donna Harnsburger, president of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce.

Because of the health-care shortage in Northeast Los Angeles, the federal government since 1979 has designated the area "medically under-served," which qualifies clinics there for federal funds.

The government considers one doctor per 2,000 residents an acceptable ratio, said Bruce of the Department of Health and Human Services, whereas Northeast Los Angeles has only one doctor for every 9,131.

Arroyo Vista was established with federal funds in 1981 to help meet the health-care needs of the heavily Latino Northeast, which includes 131,489 residents in Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, Mt. Washington and Montecito Heights.

Quadrupled Facilities

For the first five years, the clinic was housed in cramped temporary facilities in three ramshackle buildings on North Figueroa Street. Last year, a $1.13 million federal grant helped finance construction of larger quarters that more than quadrupled the center's previous facilities.

Federal grants have also allowed Arroyo Vista to more than double its staff to 35, including two full-time and nine part-time doctors, and to offer a host of free and minimal-cost services. The clinic has twice as many examining rooms at its new location and is now offering free dental and vision screening, for instance. They also hope that the clinic will draw paying customers as well as poorer patients.

Administrators said that about 60% of the area's patients have no medical insurance and many of those cannot afford to pay anywhere near the full costs of health care.

Former Location Sold

The Northeast clinic also moved out of crowded and dingy offices this year. It was housed in a converted Boys Market on Monte Vista Street, but sought a new home last year when the Los Angeles Unified School District bought the property to expand Monte Vista Street Elementary School.

The Northeast clinic, established in 1971, was as one of the city's first "free clinics." It was closed temporarily in the mid- and late 1970s after it was unsuccessful in obtaining $1 million in malpractice insurance as required by Los Angeles County.

Last year, the Northeast clinic saw 15,000 patients and Feria expects it to treat about 18,000 this year.

"In our old location, we were kind of hidden and the place was run-down, which probably scared away clientele, she said. At the new location, "We're seeing patients who haven't come in for five years or more," Feria said.

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