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Innovation in California’s Rural North

I’ve been touring the northern counties of California over the past few days for the annual ITUP regional workgroups, and we have met many inspiring individuals who are dedicated to the health of underserved communities in these rural areas. We were able to learn more about the unique needs, barriers, and solutions found in rural health care and I wanted to highlight a few programs that are particularly impressive.

We were able to tour one of the Open Door Community Health Centers in Eureka, which also houses the Telehealth and Visiting Specialist Center (TVSC). One of the biggest barriers in these areas is access to specialty medical care, from dermatology to cardiology and psychiatry. For some conditions, patients have traditionally been forced to travel as far as Sacramento and San Francisco to find these services. The TVSC utilizes state of the art video feeds and imaging to link patients to specialists all over the state without having to make the trek to a common location. For example, a patient at the Eureka clinic can receive an endoscopy from clinic staff, while an otolaryngologist at UCSF can diagnose abnormalities from a real-time video feed at his desk in San Francisco. Conversely, a psychiatrist at the TVSC can have regular video-sessions with a patient in the remote Siskiyou County clinic location who may not be able to travel the long distance to Eureka multiple times a week. In addition to advances in telemedicine, the Clinics act as a vital source of care for the safety net population who face additional financial barriers to care.

I am a major advocate of integrated health, and Shasta County’s Hill Country Health and Wellness Center provides some impressive health services. From dental to preventive care and mental health, the Center is a one-stop-shop for a range of health needs. The newly expanded Center now also provides specialty care, a library of educational materials, and exercise/health promotion activities. This not only acts as a convenient way to address multiple health needs in one visit, but also instills a sense of personal health awareness for patients.