Professors and students in the Nursing Department at California State University, Long Beach will be taking more of their classroom lessons to the examination room.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan that allows the Cal State Long Beach nursing program to take over the operation of a low-cost, health care clinic located in the city of Santa Ana. The plan includes a five-year commitment from the university.
CSULB Nursing Department officials have developed a unique partnership with community and local government entities to establish the "Casa de Salud Family Health Clinic." Casa de Salud will be a nurse-managed primary care and wellness facility serving special populations with limited access to care.
"This is something we have wanted to do for a very long time," said Christine Talmadge, director of the CSULB Department of Nursing. "Having a good clinical program and resources are essential for any nursing program. This clinic gives us another dimension to be able to prepare our students for the real world out there."
The nursing program will immediately begin taking over the clinic's operation from the county, which was forced to open a temporary facility in July after the former tenants closed the clinic without notice, leaving more than 3,000 local patients without health care.
As the county phases itself out of the operation and the university completes some of its licensing arrangements and other paper work, officials from both sides believe the Nursing Department will be in full control of the operation by the beginning of November.
"This is not only good for the residents of Orange County, who are going to get much-needed care for some of its poorest residents, it is also going to be very good for our students," noted Sonja Cahill, coordinator of the university' family nurse practitioner program who will also serve as the clinic's nurse practitioner. "We are now going to be able to take students to a place where they will be able to practice what we are teaching in the classroom."
Cal State Long Beach's nurse practitioner students must complete a minimum of 576 hours in a clinical environment to earn certification. In addition, professors must work four hours a week to maintain credentials and remain clinically competent, which is a requirement at the university.
The clinic will give professors and students a place to record those hours and practice within their areas of specialty. Among those specialty areas are pediatrics, adult health, women's health, geriatrics and psychological mental health.
Julie Poulson, assistant director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, pointed out the advantages of the deal for the county. "It's good for us because it brings a new health care provider to Orange County," she said, describing the clinic's south Santa Ana location as a high-need area. "Other similar facilities in the county are so saturated they can't take on any more patients, and while we were able to provide a safety-net service for patients of this clinic, we could not have sustained the service on a long-term basis."
She went on to say that the county is excited about the opportunity to serve as a training ground for nurses, especially nurse practitioners with advance degrees. She admitted the county's reasons were selfish.
"Nationally, there is a critical shortage of nurses," said Poulson, who is also a nurse. "Our hope is that those nurses getting trained here will consider working in the Orange County area."
It was Cahill who set the wheels in motion for the university to take over the clinic. The county was looking for a bilingual nurse practitioner to help them tend to and refer patients to other clinics, and Cahill was called to fill in that role.
"During my employment with the county this summer, what they wanted me to do was go through the charts and help refer the clinic's patients to other clinics," Cahill explained. "But, the other low-cost or free clinics in Orange County were already saturated. They couldn't take on these extra patients.
"The county didn't want to get involved in the health care business, but they didn't have any choice at that point. So, while they helped tend to these patients, they were also looking for someone to take over the clinic," she continued. "We (in the nursing program) had talked about a clinic in the past, and as soon as I mentioned it, the county people were all for the idea."
The county's support for the program is evident in the $100,000 it has provided to help with the start-up costs. The nursing program has also received an additional $100,000 from two other partners--Cal Optima and Kaiser Permanente--as bridge money for the opening and beginning operation of the clinic.
For the money, the county's Health Care Agency and residents in the area will have a full-service, low-cost clinic in Santa Ana. At the same time, the county is able to remove itself from the health care business.
"This was just an excellent opportunity for us," Talmadge pointed out. "What we have to offer are lots of resources in students and faculty. What we didn't have were the dollars to run this clinic, and the Orange County community stepped up to the plate and they were willing to help us begin to underwrite the cost of taking over the clinic. It is turning out to be a very nice partnership between these entities."
Cal State Long Beach will seek additional financial support to sustain and expand the program from private entities, such as corporations and foundations, and government sources, such as empowerment and health agency grants.
Cahill said care at Casa de Salud will not be free but will be very low cost. Patients will be charged fees on a sliding scale, but no one will be denied care because of inability to pay.
One of the first changes Nursing Department administrators will make to the clinic is expansion of operating hours. Currently available 15 hours weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the clinic will be open daily for five hours beginning Nov. 1. The intent is to eventually increase service to 40 hours a week. Weekend operation is also under consideration.
Public Affairs Offices/Campus News