San Ysidro Health Center keeps growing San Diego Union Tribune
August 13, 2012
Residents in southeastern San Diego will soon have a new place to
turn when they need medical care.
The San Ysidro Health Center plans to open its new three-story
King-Chavez Health Center this week at 950 S. Euclid Ave., where
adults and children can receive medical, dental and mental health
services regardless of their ability to pay.
The center, made possible by a highly competitive $9.7 million
federal stimulus grant, is the San Ysidro system’s latest effort
in a remarkable journey to expand care to low-income residents in
Since it was founded in 1969 in a rundown house by seven
immigrant women determined to bring a doctor to their poor South
Bay community, the nonprofit has blossomed into one of the
largest community clinic systems in the county.
Today [August 11, 2012], San Ysidro Health Center has 815
employees and a $63 million annual budget to operate 10 medical
clinics, four dental clinics and other programs that serve 80,000
registered patients — half of them uninsured — in South Bay and
central San Diego.
“Our mission has always been to function as a health safety net
providing the highest quality health care to underserved
communities and to residents who don’t have the resources or
insurance to pay for care,” said Chief Executive Ed Martinez.
“That was the mission of our founding mothers, and it continues
to be our mission today.”
The new 25,000-square-foot clinic is more than three times the
size of the nonprofit’s Comprehensive Health Center three blocks
to the north. Most of the services at the older clinic will shift
to King-Chavez, although the Euclid Family Counseling Center will
The handsome earth-toned King-Chavez center has its own lab and
X-ray departments, and offers adult mental health services, 12
medical exam rooms and a 10-chair dental department that includes
a special unit tailored for medically fragile or special needs
The special needs dentistry is a partnership with A.T. Still
University’s Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health.
Jack Dillenberg, the school’s dean, said he was pleased to work
with the San Ysidro health system on its newest clinic. The
school donated $200,000 to help build the dental department at
the King-Chavez Health Center, where a faculty member will be on
staff and fourth-year students will do rotations.
“We are the nation’s public health dental school and started the
school to work with underserved communities,” Dillenberg said.
“Ed Martinez and his group provide a tremendous service to the
community, and I’m a big supporter of what they do. I want to
help them succeed.”
Patients in the San Ysidro clinics without public or private
insurance pay on a sliding scale. Counselors also help patients
apply for Medi-Cal or other public programs.
County Supervisor Greg Cox attributed much of San Ysidro Health
Center’s success to Martinez and his ability to secure federal,
state and local grants, as well as private donations.
“San Ysidro Health Center is one of our safety nets in District
1,” Cox said. “They’re doing some remarkable things in a very
tough (economic) environment. I give a lot of credit to Ed
Martinez. He seems to know where the money is.”
Martinez, 67, was hired as chief executive in 1998 as the
nonprofit was struggling, burdened with a $3.2 million debt to
the Internal Revenue Service. The clinic was losing doctors,
supplies arrived COD and morale was in the cellar.
“The good thing was we had an excellent staff providing good care
and an established relationship with a community that trusted
us,” he said.
Martinez, who has a master’s degree in public health-hospital
administration from Yale University and a master’s degree in
public administration from San Diego State, stabilized things and
paid off the IRS debt within 18 months.
“I still have the canceled check in my office,” he said.
Martinez had plenty of health care experience behind him, having
been CEO of Harbor View Medical Center in San Diego and the
Community Health Center of Southern Nevada before arriving at the
By 2002, San Ysidro Health Center had 300 employees and a $20
million budget. Those numbers and its facilities have about
tripled since then.
“They are, I think, really a remarkable organization in the way
they’ve evolved and expanded and the quality of services they
provide,” Cox said. “Community clinics, particularly the ones
where (Martinez) works, are in medical deserts where people are
without insurance and can’t afford care.”
The San Ysidro nonprofit employs a “holistic approach” in
providing comprehensive services in a system that respects the
cultural and linguistic diversity of the communities it serves,
Dr. Ralph Hernandez employs that holistic approach every day, he
said. Hernandez will move from the Comprehensive Health Center on
Euclid Avenue to the King-Chavez center this week.
Hernandez grew up in the neighborhood “off Imperial Avenue,”
earned a bachelor’s degree at UC San Diego and graduated from the
University of Utah School of Medicine 25 years ago.
He worked at San Ysidro Health Center for a few years before
moving to Kaiser Permanente. Three years ago, he returned to the
“I have patients who are homeless or near homelessness. What I’m
seeing is that good health requires, not just a prescription, but
medical guidance, education, and support,” he said.
Hernandez mentioned a recent patient who couldn’t afford
medication for his diabetes-related illnesses. That’s a question
Hernandez has learned to ask.
“I let him know that we can help him,” he said. “We have staff
who have the resources to look for free or low-cost medications.”
But Hernandez said a key part of his job also is education —
explaining the importance of the medication and taking time to
discuss diet and lifestyle changes. Many patients also suffer
from depression, debilitating stress or other mental health
issues that can go undiagnosed in a quick office visit.
“I’m grateful to this organization that we can take the time to
find out some of the underlying problems,” Hernandez said.
He expects the new King-Chavez center to help him provide more
efficient care because all services — medical, dental, mental
health, lab facilities, radiology — will be under one roof.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “What a great gift
to the community.”
Martinez said the King-Chavez clinic — like the entire San Ysidro
system — is designed to create a medical home where low-income
residents can get preventive care as well as comprehensive
He said that philosophy dovetails with the Obama administration’s
health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, and probably helped
secure the federal grant to build King-Chavez.
The clinic also serves a particularly vulnerable population.
Residents in the area have substantially higher rates of
diabetes, asthma, heart disease, HIV, stroke, and prostate and
cervical cancers than the county as a whole, according to county
The Affordable Care Act vastly expands Medicaid — called Medi-Cal
in California — so that about 20 million more people nationwide
will have coverage in 2014. The federal law envisions most going
to community clinics for health care, and millions of dollars in
federal grants have been issued to help clinics gear up for the
Martinez said he thinks his clinics probably already see many of
those uninsured in his service areas but that the clinics will
benefit from getting Medi-Cal payments.
And he hopes the Obama administration will see the King-Chavez
Health Center as a model program.
“It’s really a great example of what the administration is trying
to do,” he said. “We’re hoping to invite President Obama out to