Community Health Center La Clinica: Carl I. Walters, II, CEO

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The community health care model is a practical option for providing care to underserved communities and is quickly growing in popularity as the industry searches for solutions to the health care crisis. The mission of Community Health Center La Clinica is to provide high quality, effective and affordable health care to the community it serves in Southeastern Washington, no matter their economic status. This private, non-profit agency began offering services in 1982. Back then, they operated with two doctors, 13 employees, 3,000 square feet of working space and an operating budget of approximately $300,000. During this time, La Clinica serviced about 9,000 patients. Today’s stats tell a different story, one of growth and strategic expansion.

Organization growth equals growing opportunities for care

Today, La Clinica is the largest federally qualified health center serving the Washington state area, with an operating budget of just under $15 million a year. La Clinica has branched out to offer services at multiple sites, employing 200 full-time employees, with a provider group of approximately 25 members. The organization now offers numerous services, including the following:  family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, urgent care, dental and behavioral health and WIC services. Community Health Center La Clinica also offers a variety of community outreach services, like breastfeeding promotion, in-home lactation consulting, Medicaid referral and assistance with support services and charities for at-risk families.  Carl I. Walters II took over the role of CEO in 2009. He says that the organization is now focusing its energies on stabilization so that it can take its services to the next level. “We are focusing on stabilization of the infrastructure from human capital to our provider network group. We also want to strengthen the Health Center’s financial viability and launch a targeted and strategic marketing plan designed to change how the community views the services we offer.” In addition to these goals, Community Health Center La Clinica is also aiming to become the employer of choice in the region for health care professionals and align itself to be able to take advantage of strategic areas for growth.

Maximizing funding options

Community Health Center La Clinica’s leadership is focusing on sources of funding especially from grant opportunities. The organization recently received word from the federal government that it has been awarded a $7.5 million HRSA Facility Improvement Program (FIP grant. Walters stated the organization plans to utilize this grant to build a new 30,000 square foot facility. The organization was awarded a $408,000 HRSA  Increase Demand for Services Grant (IDS)in early 2009, which the clinic plans to use to expand its pediatric service line and rebuild the internal medicine service line. Community Health Center La Clinica was also awarded a $1.1 million Capital Improvement Grant (CIP) which enabled the non-profit to purchase a new practice management system and allocate funds to purchase hysteroscope and ultrasound equipment, expand urgent care operations, add a new dental laboratory, upgrade the telephone system software and also upgrade the building security.

Creating the right environment for employees

Because Community Health Center La Clinica serves vulnerable members of the community, the organization takes its role in the region very seriously. “We are community stewards,” says Walters. “We serve the community and are here for any family that wants to utilize our services. Our Health Center service area encompasses the entire Tri-Cities area some 240,000 people and we are committed to provided the highest level of care in the most personalized, compassionate and professional manner.” Walters adds that the group is working hard to create an organizational culture that is centered around shared mission, vision and values. The organization is offering multiple in-house customer service training modules and encourages its employees to engage in lifelong continuing educational opportunities. “The health care arena is a fluid environment and we need to stay competitive or risk organizational extinction. To help ensure we maintain our competitive edge, it’s important that we encourage our health care leaders to engage in being lifelong learners,” adds Walters.

Additionally Community Health Center La Clinica focuses on promoting from within and creating a culture that lends itself to employee recruitment and retention. “Some organizations don’t look at it from that perspective. Some are good at attracting staff, but their staff don’t stay long because of the organizational environment. We are committed to eliminating office politics and create an environment where people set each other up to succeed” Walters goes on to state. Indeed, creating a positive culture is one of Walters’ top priorities and main attributes of the group’s success. “We definitely believe in an upside-down leadership philosophy.  We, the management team exist for one reason and that is to ensure that our employees have all the love, support, guidance and equipment they need to do their job the in the best way possible.” This nurturing environment trickles down to the staff’s roles themselves as Walters adds, “An organizations success and competitive edge lies in the hearts, ingenuity and the creativity of their employees and allowing them to think outside the box. That’s important because you don’t want people coming to work thinking that if they say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or aren’t in the right clique they are going to lose their jobs.”

Walters says it’s essential to realize that as one of 14,000 Federally Qualifying Health Centers located across the country, Community Health Center La Clinica offers critically needed primary care services to some of its community’s most vulnerable residents. “We (FQHCs) serve as the nation’s first line of defense as it relates to providing comprehensive and preventative primary care services for the nation’s uninsured and/or underinsured; a population that is growing every day.” Walters says his clinics provide health care to hard working families who otherwise wouldn’t have access to high-quality primary health care services. “Study after study has shown that establishing more people with a primary care provider and that staying under the care of a primary care provider, helps to reduce inappropriate emergency room visits, extended and unplanned hospital stays as well as inappropriate urgent care clinic visits. Federally Qualified Health Centers have and will continue to play a foundational role in our nations efforts to drive the cost of health care downward as they help ensure patients receive the right care, at the right time and in the right treatment platform. We definitely see ourselves as part of the solution to today’s health care crisis.”

-by Jacqueline Rupp

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