Heather Edington of Scotts Valley brought her daughter Bliss to a brand-new Santa Cruz health clinic for a well check where she received eye and hearing exams and got help for wheezing from a recent cold.
Right next door in a similarly gleaming new building, Jovina Evangalista took X-ray images of Oscar Gutierrez’s teeth, which he admitted had not been done in a while.
The side-by-side Capitola Road medical and dental clinics on 3.7 acres opened December 5. They serve low-income area residents and are operated by Santa Cruz Community Health and Dientes Community Dental. The project, with low-income housing currently under construction on the same site, is the culmination of 5 years of planning and fundraising, with contributing construction grants from Kaiser Permanente.
In addition to the construction grants, both organizations received additional grants in 2022 from a Kaiser Permanente fund at the East Bay Community Foundation for operations and outreach. The health centers received $250,000 and Dientes received $100,000.
Those grants are part of a larger group of $1.5 million from the same Kaiser Permanente fund at the East Bay Community Foundation to 11 Santa Cruz area organizations. The grants are for services including food, housing, pediatric medical care, mental health care, senior health care, and youth affected by domestic and sexual violence.
The new Santa Cruz Community Health Centers building allows the organization to increase the number of patients seen at its local clinics by 3,000 each year, said Dena Loijos, chief strategy and impact officer.
“This project has allowed us to expand not only our quantity of services, but it has doubled our square footage so we can now offer optometry services, which is hugely needed in this area,” said Loijos. “We also have on-site behavioral health services including for substance abuse.”
The Kaiser Permanente grants to Dientes, Santa Cruz Community Health Centers, and other community organizations in the area play a critical role in building and maintaining a healthy community, said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs.
“All of these grants address health disparities in our communities,” said Radford. “And that is central to the Kaiser Permanente mission of improving the health of our members and the communities we serve.”
The new Dientes dental clinic will serve 6,000 patients a year who otherwise could not get care in the Santa Cruz area because of a lack of providers who accept Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance plan for 13 million low-income residents statewide.
“In a community where 80,000 people use Medi-Cal, only 30,000 of them can get dental care,” said Sheree Storm, Dientes’ chief business development officer. “There are only 13 private dentists here who accept Medi-Cal and only 8 are accepting new patients.”
Storm said the partnership with the medical clinic next door allows Dientes to refer anxious dental patients who have not received care in a long time due to “not so good experiences” to visit a mental health professional before a procedure that would otherwise cause great mental distress.
Having both clinics and housing all in one place “is really incredible” said Loijos.
“And without the partnership with Kaiser Permanente, all this would not be possible.”