The Enterprise recently gained exclusive access to the nearly finished Valley Springs Health and Wellness Center via a private tour led by its chief proponent, Mark Twain Health Care District (MTHCD) CEO Dr. Randy Smart.
The 10,000-square-foot clinic, at 51 Wellness Way, will open its doors to the public on Oct. 15. Conceived to “serve the underserved,” the facility was designed with preventative care and ease of access in mind, offering primary, walk-in and dental care, as well as an in-house pharmacy and X-ray machine.
The new facility is designated as a Rural Health Clinic (RHC) by both state and federal standards, which means that its target population is those who are underinsured or on Medicare. Currently, there are approximately 4,500 RHC’s nationwide, providing primary and preventative health services where they are needed most, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
However, the Valley Springs clinic is not exclusive to the underinsured, and with its emphasis on convenience and 10 new physicians offering general medicine, family medicine and specialty care, some may choose to switch to the new facility for their primary care needs.
According to Smart, enticing those physicians to move to a rural area was a challenge that he overcame with an earnest approach.
“It’s got to be personal. You’ve got to care,” Smart said. “You can’t do that in a big system. … It’s small enough that we can be human, and we can create a great environment for people to work in.”
Some of the details that make the Valley Springs clinic alluring for staff and patients alike is the incorporation of technology, such as colored lights outside each exam room to indicate the status of the visit and an Athena Health Electronic Health Records app that allows returning patients to check in from the parking lot.
The facility itself was designed after a concept called “The Clinic of the Future,” a mock-up created by Dignity Health that aimed to encompass the ideal workflow and space allocation for maximum efficiency, Smart said. A horseshoe-shaped configuration includes four “pods,” which each contain a doctor’s office and three exam rooms. The pods surround a centralized workstation, with a big-screen monitor displaying the status of each exam room.
Contracted to Diede Construction Inc., every facet of the facility has been built to OSHPD 3 standards, adhering to special regulations under the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development – a conscious decision by the MTHCD board that increased costs but ensured maximum quality, according to Smart.
Coming in so far under its $7.5 million budget, the project will likely not exceed that full amount, loaned to the district by the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I feel really good about that,” Smart said. “Something, to me, that was very personal, is can you manage taxpayer money and not just spend thousands on everything? … We’re a public district, and it’s something I take very seriously. … Every day, I treat that taxpayer money exactly the way I treat my own money.”
According to Smart, projections show that the low-interest loan will be paid off within the next 30 years – an ideal situation, in his eyes, that would not have been possible without the lease renewal of Mark Twain Medical Center to Dignity Health, which the public voted “yes” on last summer.
“If that didn’t happen, this wouldn’t happen,” Smart said. “That deal really provided us a way to get the loan. You can’t get a loan unless you’re able to pay it off.”
Despite that influence in the deal, the Valley Springs clinic will be “totally separate” from Dignity Health, Smart said, and will be operated solely by the local health care district.
Smart added that the support of the MTHCD board and the public has also been instrumental in completing the project.
“They’ve been 100% behind this, and they give me the authority to do it,” he said. “Our board is a really cohesive board. That’s been huge.”
Regarding public feedback, Smart said he receives calls daily from locals who are looking forward to accessing the new clinic.
“It just makes it easier to do when they’re excited about it. It gives you more energy,” he said. “Having a clinic and a healthcare facility is huge for development. … If you’re in Valley Springs, this really a new economic hub.”
With 35 positions almost filled, the clinic is likely the largest employer in Valley Springs, Smart said. Additionally, the pharmacy will be operated by a private owner.
The majority of those hires have been local, including Manager Tina Terradista, who lives in Copperopolis and previously managed a Me-Wuk tribal clinic in Tuolumne County.
“Of the 32 (applicants), she was the one I wanted,” Smart said. “She’ll be absolutely great.”
Currently, Terradista is hiring for a few remaining positions and getting ready to begin a lengthy training process.
On Oct. 18, there will be an open house for the public with food, music and staff-led tours starting at 10 a.m.
“It’s kind of like getting ready for the big game,” Smart said. “For me, that’s really exciting that you can build up that team, and you can get them pumped up and on the day you open, they’re all in-sync. That’s the goal.”