A federally qualified community-based healthcare organization, Golden Valley Health Centers has been in operation in Merced, Calif., since 1972. It has grown from a single facility with a few exam rooms to encompass more than 26 locations.

Golden Valley Health Centers currently has a staff of around 850, which includes approximately 150 providers. It serves Merced and Stanislaus counties, with core services that include family practice, pediatrics, behavioral health and dental. 

In addition, Golden Valley Health Centers has specialty services in OB/GYN, optometry, podiatry, otolaryngology and geriatrics. It is also focused on meeting additional medical and educational needs for patients in its communities through health education, nursing, Covered CA/Medi-Cal enrollment, and by promoting wellness through health fairs and screenings.  

“We currently have four school-based centers, and we are also partnering with additional school districts in our area to further our mission to provide quality healthcare services to people in the communities we serve,” CEO Tony Weber says. 

Filling a Need

Golden Valley Health Centers faces pressures that are similar to those faced by many federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and by healthcare entities in general. For example, the organization’s patient population is 77 percent Medi-Cal, which means they are at or below 138 percent or  the federal poverty level. In addition, 11 percent of its patient population is uninsured, with the remaining population split between Medicare and private coverage. 

“We have been very collaborative with the Federally Qualified Health Centers located in the surrounding market as we all focus on serving the underserved in our established communities,” Weber says.

Golden Valley Health Centers’ patients are 79 percent Latino, and it serves 60 percent female and 40 percent male patients. Its patients include around 20,000 agricultural workers and 1,200 homeless individuals.

Provider recruitment is an important ongoing focal area for the organization. Golden Valley Health Centers competes with private hospitals that can pay more, and it can also be difficult for the organization to recruit in the valley because it is so close to the Bay Area and larger metropolitan areas. Consolidation and expansion of its provider recruitment efforts have been a big investment area for Golden Valley Health Centers.

“The National Health Service Corps loan repayment program can be an added benefit to assist with our recruitment efforts, but the large hospitals will always be able to pay more,” Weber says. “However, we feel that our mission and values are what is attractive to providers looking to establish a practice.”

Golden Valley Health Centers works to ensure that its staff operates at the top of their capabilities. This helps the organization to make sure it is maximizing what are often limited resources. It has qualified staff providing many services to patients and has partnered with a number of outside entities.

These partnerships help the organization to continue to train and develop its staff. These partners have included University of the Pacific, UCDavis, Center for Disease Control, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and others to promote innovation in care delivery models and expansion in the services it provides.  

“Recruitment and retention are keys areas of focus to ensure we have the quality and quantity of staff necessary,” Weber says.

Growing to Serve

Access is the biggest challenge for the organization. Many of Golden Valley Health Centers’ clinics are extremely busy and don’t have space to add additional providers and services. Golden Valley Health Centers is always looking for ways to ensure it has enough space to accommodate the growing demand for services. For example, Golden Valley Health Centers has invested in expanding dental services throughout current and new facilities while also expanding integrated behavioral health services. In addition, it has invested in new sites in Ceres and Empire.

“We have always focused on establishing clinics where the greatest needs exist for patient access and have worked on expanding as much as possible to bring quality health services to our patients,” Weber says. 

“There are a lot of unknowns in regards to alternative payment models for FQHCs at the state level as well as federal support to serve undocumented and uninsured patients,” Weber continues. “We always remain driven by our mission, but need to remain financially viable to continue to provide care.”

The organization also has a number of ongoing expansion and renovation projects that will allow it to add new exam rooms, dental rooms and staff positions. Another investment area is the lease of a 50,000-square-foot building from Merced County. 

Formerly an AT&T call center, the organization will move around 300 support staff to that new location. This will allow Golden Valley Health Centers to consolidate and expand its call center, which should lead to improved call center service. 

“We are also expanding dental services since it is a reimbursable benefit again and in high demand,” Weber says. “Expansion of behavioral health services are other initiatives for our organization, as well as adding positions in human resources and operations to help get us deeper into our communities so we can develop partnerships and collaborative opportunities.”

Golden Valley Health Centers is always looking to the future. As it looks forward, the organization understands that the evolution of the industry in the wake of the Affordable Care Act will continue to be a challenge. 

In response, Golden Valley Health Centers has trained its staff to become certified enrollment counselors through Covered CA. In addition, it has opened up an enrollment center and expanded access through template changes to allow for more new patients. Going forward, Golden Valley Health Centers will also continue adding new sites while expanding current sites.

Other challenges the organization will face include provider recruitment and maintaining patient-centered medical home standards. Beyond that, there is uncertainty in federal and state budgets, as well as challenges converting all sites to the new alternative payment methodology. Although these challenges and more will continue to confront Golden Valley Health Centers and its staff, the organization is confident that it has what it takes to adapt to the modern reality of healthcare.

“We are doing our best to expand and meet the needs of our communities,” Weber explains. “It can be difficult, but we feel we are doing a good job given our resources and rising demand.” 

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