National Health Center Week at Peach Tree Health

Dr. Cherry Wy, a pediatrician, gives Arely Navarrette, 14, a check-up at the Peach Tree Clinic in Yuba City Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Navarrette is joined by her sister Ashley Navarrette, 9, and father Marco Navarrette.

Community health clinics are often the front line for people most impacted by those chronic diseases prevalent in Yuba and Sutter counties.

The affordable care provided by the clinics incentivizes people to regularly visit their primary care provider, which can catch a health problem before it becomes chronic, and eases the burden on emergency rooms, Peach Tree Health's chief development officer Ted Fong said.

National Health Center Week (Aug. 9-15) highlights the success of the national system that started 50 years ago as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, Fong said. Peach Tree is hosting a free lunch with guest speakers Thursday at the Yuba City clinic.

Peach Tree joined the network of clinics in 1991 and has five locations in Yuba and Sutter counties that provide primary care, pediatrics, OB/GYN, pharmacy, dentistry, vision and mental health services to more than 25,000 residents.

Many of the clients of health clinics, such as Peach Tree and Ampla Health, are recipients of Medicare and Medicaid who have trouble seeing doctors at private practices because the reimbursements to the doctors are low, Yuba County Board of Supervisor John Nicoletti said. Peach Tree grew out of some of the services the Yuba County Public Health Department offered before the county hospitals closed, Nicoletti said.

"The transition from county hospitals didn't keep up with the demand for care," Nicoletti said. "The hospitals absorbed the problems and, in turn, it gets thrown back at the counties in a financial way."

When Peach Tree opened in Peach Tree Mall 24 years ago, it stepped in to fill the void between people with private healthcare through their employer and those without insurance whose primary source of health care was the emergency room, CEO Greg Stone said.

The connection to the county remains. Both the Yuba and Sutter county clinics are housed next to the respective health departments, and many of the clients utilize services offered by Peach Tree and the county, Stone said.

"The thought was always to be a one-stop shop for folks on government assistance," Stone said. "It allows us to react with our peers in the county health departments."

Though not all of Peach Tree's clients are on government assistance, the clinic's mission is to improve the health of low-income and undeserved populations.

When the Affordable Care Act passed, it changed the equation both for the good and the bad. It made it easier for people to address their health needs in a timely fashion, which will help lower chronic illness and save money in the long term, but increased the urgency to expand, Stone said.

"The big thing that people don't think about from a societal standpoint is that it makes your community more stable, it makes people healthier and puts people back in motion again," Stone said. "People can go back to work, back to school, and I think that's a really great thing to see."

The higher demand for services leads to longer wait times, especially in key specialties like dentistry, but there are no funds to build or hire more doctors, he said.

"We do amazing things with relatively little," Stone said. "We hope to draw attention to our plight."

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