SOLEDAD — Soledad Community Health Care District recently hosted a grand-opening ceremony for its Women’s Health Center.
The project has been in the works for 15 years, and will expand the district’s care options with a focus on mammography and women’s health.
“The Women’s Health Center will increase women’s health overall by providing local … mammography machine screening within the district’s geographic footprint and beyond,” said Ida Chan, district CEO, at the Nov. 19 ceremony. “The women’s health center will provide additional exam rooms for patient care and classrooms for patient education to improve medical literacy to all the underserved population.”
The expansion also makes it possible to increase the staff, with a full-time OB-GYN specialist and a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health services. Two mental health providers will also be added to see patients on a full-time basis.
“Just being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer, and 63.3% of Monterey County women receive a mammography screening,” Chan said. “This number is much lower for women with low income, transportation constraints and no health insurance.”
Chan noted breast cancer deaths are on a decline and attributed early detection as being a major contributing factor, along with better treatment.
“Breast cancer is the single most common cancer in women,” she said. “The board of directors recognized the need and determined this potentially life-saving procedure was needed to be done locally.”
Chan credited past CEOs Steve Pritt and Gary Staab with taking the reins of the project, which began in 2005.
“This will be the only health facility in South County to provide a full specialty care locally,” she said.
The importance of local services, explained Chan, was a result of Soledad being 30 miles from Salinas, where half of women referred for mammography services cannot go to get them done.
“We are far enough away from the bigger cities and resources that travel is our biggest barrier to care for our patients,” said Cassie Russo, director of clinic operations.
Russo added that there is a 40% to 50% non-compliance rate for patients referred to Salinas or beyond, and called it “unacceptable” to have happen.
“The women’s health center is designed to bring more services to the community instead of having to send patients outside of our area to get their health care needs met,” she said. “With the addition of the mammography machine, we’ll be able to bring our 50% compliance rate up to 100%. That’s our goal in the fight against breast cancer.”
State Sen. Anna Caballero also spoke about the challenges of medical care.
“The need to travel to get in a car and go somewhere to get checked is difficult for many South County residents. It requires you to take the entire day off in order to do it,” Caballero said. “You have to lose a day of work.”
She noted the importance of a local provider and thanked the efforts and tenacity of the Soledad Community Health Care District board.
“It’s hard to go in and get that test done if you’ve never had it before, and to have someone that you trust in the community that you’ve come to for other services, the ability to be able to come to a clinic where you know people, is incredibly important,” Caballero said.
The 3,000-square-foot building contains six new exam rooms and extra classroom spaces. The facility expansion will allow an additional 20,000 patient visits per year to the clinic’s existing 40,000 yearly visits for treatment.