Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics is the south county’s firewall against communal public health threats.
Every year, its eight clinics in Isla Vista, Goleta, and Santa Barbara serve more than 22,000 people, 91% of whom are low- income and often lack adequate resources to pay for care. The clinics’ physicians, physician assistants, dentists, and nurse practitioners provide a wide range of primary care from substance use treatment to managing chronic illness and behavioral health.
“This is the best job I have ever had,” says CEO and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Fenzi. “The folks we are taking care of are so grateful that we are here. And I get to rub elbows with such passionate and dedicated people.”
Fenzi, a family medicine doctor, spends one day a week seeing patients in an effort to keep up with his highly qualified medical staff.
All services are provided on a sliding scale, so that everyone who comes through the doors is provided “high quality, comprehensive, affordable healthcare… regardless of their ability to pay, in an environment that fosters respect, compassion, and dignity.”
Without the neighborhood clinics – many of these patients wouldn’t have many other options for care other than the emergency room.
“The ER is very expensive,” Fenzi says. “You have no continuity, and it’s not a place where you can provide care for people with chronic health conditions.”
Inasmuch, the role Neighborhood Clinics plays in helping the patients it does extends to the whole community. “If you can’t provide access to everyone in the community, you simply won’t have a healthy community.”
For the first six months of 2021, Fenzi is focused on “a triple target to keep essential workers healthy”: managing chronic health conditions, ensuring children are vaccinated, and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, administering it to the thousands of patients he and his colleagues see.
As the on-the-ground provider for so many uninsured, undocumented essential workers, Fenzi and the clinics will have to show people that it is safe to take a new vaccine and will be a lead agency administering the vaccinations themselves.