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Orange County’s Health Hangs in the Balance

Orange County’s Health Hangs in the Balance

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below

One third of Orange County residents are unable to get the health care they need, but local organizations are working to bridge the gap.

An epidemic is sweeping across Orange County, driving our residents to overcrowded and expensive emergency rooms, causing them to miss work and lose precious income, forcing missed school days for young students, and preventing treatment that could avert catastrophe. 

The epidemic is a lack of access to affordable, quality medical care, and if we don’t address it effectively, the health of our entire community is at risk.

While the recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to medical coverage for the uninsured in Orange County, it is not a panacea. Significant challenges remain to be overcome, including informing those in greatest need of the new health resources available to them, and ensuring that our network of health providers is sufficient to meet the demands of newly covered individuals and families.

Resolving these issues is imperative for the overall health of our community, as deferring medical care often leads to ailments that are more serious. And our most vulnerable residents— many of whom are unemployed — are not financially prepared to handle a catastrophic illness. So they put off medical care. Why seek to learn your diagnosis if you can’t afford to treat the disease?

Another complication is the relative scarcity of community health resources in Orange County. Although progress has been made over the past five years with the addition of a number of federally qualified health centers, we still see emergency rooms being used far too often as a default medical home for non-urgent issues — an inefficient and costly solution that leads to overcrowding and overburdening of the system, not to mention poor long-term health outcomes for our community’s most vulnerable residents. 

“Our Emergency Care Center is packed every single day and around the clock,” said Cecilia Bustamante Pixa, MPH, director of community outreach, St. Joseph Hospital of Orange. “When members of our community utilize the emergency room for nonemergency situations, it creates huge bottlenecks. Most seriously, it can delay care to those who have true medical emergencies.”

St. Joseph Hospital is working to find solutions by taking health care to the people who need it most. Its commitment to providing excellent and compassionate care extends beyond its hospital walls — and well beyond its mandates.

“Our mission calls us to provide care to the most vulnerable, most underserved and marginalized members of our community,” Bustamante Pixa explained. “Our response to this call is in the form of fixed and mobile community clinics. Through our Community Benefit programs, we reach out to our most vulnerable members and provide them with care, regardless of their ability to pay. We do this at our fixed-site clinic, La Amistad de Jose Family Health Center, which logs annually more than 14,000 visits, and our Puente a La Salud Mobile Clinics that travel to multiple locations throughout the county.”

Serve the People of Santa Ana is also taking on the challenge. They recognize that the majority of their clients are facing chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, which require regular medical care, prescriptions and education, so they work to form long-term health partnerships with their clients. In addition, they recognize that they must address the needs of entire families, so they provide treatment for all ages.

“If you look at our programs and services, you’ll see we provide them in a family-centered model,” explained Rocio Nunez-Magdaleno, executive director, Serve the People. “We make it easy for families to take advantage of our practice, with conveniences such as offering longer hours of operation. And we work with patients and their families to create more-appropriate lifestyles through education.”

These are just two examples among many organizations working to fill in the holes in Orange County’s health safety net, but the long-term solutions will depend on us all. To find out how you can get involved in building a healthy future for all who call Orange County home, visit Connect OC Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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