WHITTIER, Calif. (MCT) – Health insurance is important to Johnny Mollindo of La Habra. He’s diabetic and needs regular blood tests.
So when he lost his job at Brown International Co. and couldn’t afford insurance, he wasn’t sure what to do.
But Mollindo, 61, who is part Native American, heard about the American Indian Healing Center, a health clinic at 12456 Washington Blvd. in Whittier that serves low income people, in particular Native Americans.
He was ecstatic because he needs those regular blood tests.
“It’s the most important thing to me,” Mollindo said of the center. “It’s what keeps me out of the emergency room.”
But now this clinic, which opened in 2000, is in jeopardy because of state budget cuts that eliminated its annual state American Indian health grant of $170,000.
“If this clinic shuts down, what do I do?” asked Mollindo. “I have to have blood tests and they are about $300. I get my blood tests here.”
John Andrews, executive director of the center, said Mollindo’s fears are legitimate.
Since the state budget that occurred with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of funding for low income health clinics, the center is no longer open on Fridays.
“If we can’t replace those state dollars with other sources of support, that will affect our ability to remain, offer the care and provide the services further,” Andrews said.
It’s also possible that more hours may have to be reduced, Andrews said.
The grant made up about 25 percent of the clinic’s annual budget of around $600,000.
To make it worse, Andrews said the clinic is having problems raising money from other sources.
“This is sort of a perfect storm,” he said. “We’ve got foundations who you would think are here to support safety net programs. But at a time when you need them, many are saying they can’t help you.”
The problem is that the foundations are having their own financial problems, Andrews said.
Some help may be on the way from federal stimulus funds, said Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City Council Native American Indian Commission.
“We’re hoping we can get him around $50,000.”
Andrade said it would be devastating for Native Americans if the clinic had to shut down.
There are more than 200,000 American Indians in Los Angeles and only one other clinic – located in downtown Los Angeles – serving them, Andrade said.
“Most of the people he serves are uninsured. They’re going to flood the other county clinics, and they’re underfunded.”
The center was opened in 2000 by Dr. Javier Davila of Tustin and Debbie Bent of Huntington Beach, a nurse practitioner, with plans to serve much of Los Angeles County’s Native American population.
By early 2003, it had obtained a state grant and other donations to hire staff and open five days a week.
You do not have to be Native American to use the clinic, but about 75 percent of its 1,500 patients are, Andrews said.
The majority of the staff is Native American. Patients typically are scheduled for 45 minutes, providing time to build up trust, he said.
It charges fees on a sliding scale depending on the person’s income. The average charge is about $23, Andrews said.
Dolores Carrasco of Whittier, now a board member, but a patient for the last four years, said she likes the personal touch of the clinic.
“The doctor sat there with me and talked to me for three hours about the consequences of not taking care of myself; what other medical doctor would do that? It woke me up. He put me on a diet and high blood pressure medication. Now, everything is fine with me.”
Carrasco hopes the clinic will be able to survive.
“Can you imagine the influx that’s going to happen in the emergency rooms of the hospital, especially now with swine flu? There will be crowds and lines. It’s going to be devastating.”
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