An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Valley Springs Health and Wellness Center on Oct. 18 to tour the new facility and recognize those who aided in the effort to expand health care in Calaveras County.
The 10,000-square-foot center on Wellness Way began serving patients on Oct. 16. With primary and walk-in care for individuals of all ages, as well as dental care and an in-house pharmacy soon to come, the “clinic of the future” was designed as a one-stop destination to meet all of the health care needs of its rural community, especially those who are underinsured.
Mark Twain Health Care District (MTHCD) CEO Dr. Randy Smart introduced the new clinic by mapping the history of the public health agency in Calaveras County since its conception in 1946 by voters. The district built Mark Twain Hospital in 1951 and operated it for approximately 50 years until health care in the U.S. “got really complicated” and MTHCD made the choice to lease the facility to Dignity Health.
“We sort of disappeared,” Smart said of the district. “We were back in the boardroom, and we didn’t have much of a public presence. What I’m here to say this morning is, we’re back. We’re here to stay. We want to be back. We want to serve the public. … This is not the pinnacle. This is the start.”
Construction began on the project just over a year ago after the district received a $7.5 million loan from the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the time of its completion, expenses have not exceeded that amount, according to Smart.
The district resolved to build and operate its own clinic following a series of town hall meetings discussing the renewal of the lease agreement with Dignity Health, which was approved by voters last year.
During those meetings, residents voiced ideas and concerns about health care in the county, and the MTHCD board listened, Smart said.
“In fact, this clinic is what you asked for,” he said, also referencing a new Dignity Health clinic in Angels Camp that is projected to open soon, spearheaded by Doug Archer, CEO of Mark Twain Medical Center. “When we open the Angels Camp clinic and the Valley Springs clinic together, we are almost doubling the ambulatory health care in this county, and that’s what you asked for. And we’re committed to doing that.”
Smart promised more to come in the near future, including the continuation of preventative health programs such as Stay Vertical Calaveras and an in-the-works consortium between the district, Mark Twain Medical Center and other county agencies to provide mobile care to residents of rural communities.
Dr. Joel Eidelson, one of six full-time physicians employed at the Valley Springs clinic, including Smart, said he was drawn to the “uplifting” atmosphere of Calaveras County and is excited to take on new patients as a family doctor.
“There’s something about this area that’s just really sweet. People just care about each other,” said Eidelson, who has already seen a few patients since the clinic opened its doors. “Dr. Smart really knows what he’s doing. He has a real vision and executed it to a T. … Patients are just really stunned when they see what we’re capable of here.”
Additionally, the clinic is decorated with prints donated by local artist and wife of Smart, Kathleen Dunphy.
Projected to serve 24,000 patients annually, the clinic saw approximately 30 patients during its first two days in operation, according to Smart.
“Some of them were people who really needed care, infections, children, and that went well. So we’re up and running,” said Smart, adding that the process went smoothly due to weeks of extensive training under the leadership of the clinic’s manager and registered nurse, Tina Terradista.
Terradista, who previously managed Tuolumne Miwuk Indian Health, said she held out on other opportunities to interview for the position, as she wanted to get involved in the “enthusiastic” atmosphere surrounding the new clinic.
She was drawn to the “passion and attitude and goals” of Smart and MTHCD Executive Assistant Peggy Stout, she said, and “everything just fell into place.”
“Being a part of something so positive and uplifting was just really welcoming and enticing,” Terradista said.
The Valley Springs Health and Wellness Center is located at 51 Wellness Way in Valley Springs. Patients can walk in for an appointment or call 772-7070.