When it comes to providing adequate access to healthcare, rural communities often rank at the bottom of the barrel. A few years ago, the farming town of Gonzales, Calif., trailed even the rural average of doctor-to-population ratios.
Not anymore. Today Gonzales boasts a doctor-population ratio that is well above the national urban average thanks to the recent addition of two new clinics and several new doctors and dentists.
How Gonzales—a town with a population of less than 9,000 and a relatively low average income level—managed this feat can be instructive not only for other rural communities grappling with similar issues, but for others seeking to expand healthcare access. What we found in Gonzales was that ambitious healthcare access goals are attainable by creatively leveraging public-private partnerships.
The first step was understanding the problem. Using a Community Development Block Grant, the city commissioned the Gonzales Community Health Assessment 2012, which collected and analyzed available data, including surveys of local residents. Among the conclusions: We were in a federally designated health professional shortage area, with an estimated 1 in 5 residents having no clinic or physician for routine or preventive care. Salinas, the closest city with a full complement of medical services, is about 20 miles away, and many of our residents lack transportation.
We not only needed better access but we needed a wellness center to serve low-income, primarily Spanish-speaking residents.
With limited city resources, we searched for partners who could assist us. We identified several: Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, a hospital and clinic operator in the region that had a goal of expanding care to underserved populations; Clinica de Salud, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on bringing healthcare to farm workers with a focus on Spanish-speakers; our one resident physician, Dr. Christine Ponzio, who was overwhelmed by demand; and our local farm companies, whose workers could benefit from improved nearby healthcare access. The mayor of Gonzales and the city council, together with the city administration, began not just encouraging the various players to expand in Gonzales but assisting whenever we could.