Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved purchasing the property where its Coastside Medical Clinic is located in Half Moon Bay.
While a wave of uncertainty continues to wash over federal heath care policy, San Mateo County officials are moving to ensure medical services for low-income residents remain on the local coastside.
This week, the Board of Supervisors agreed to spend nearly $8.2 million on purchasing the building that houses the Coastside Family Medical Center in Half Moon Bay. Having leased portions of the building for two decades and expanding in 2010, the board opted to buy the two-story 15,335-square-foot property where thousands are served each year.
“We are committed to providing health care to Medi-Cal patients, and even uninsured patients on the coastside. I don’t know how we could have made a more definitive statement that we’re making an investment in the community,” said board President Don Horsley, whose district includes the coast.
Part of the San Mateo County Medical Center, the clinic offers primary care for adults and children, family planning and prenatal care, nutrition, mental health services, disease screenings, as well as optometry and dentistry services.
The clinic cares for more than 2,500 adults and 1,000 children, most whom live along the coast from Montara to Pescadero, according to Clinic Director Dr. Jonathan Mesinger. About 75 percent of the patients are Latino, 65 percent of whom speak little or no English; making the community-based, culturally sensitive clinic a critical asset on the secluded coast, according to Mesinger.
“The coastside clinic is uniquely situated to meet the medical needs of a culturally diverse, largely rural community. Our presence on the coast makes it possible for people in the neighborhood to received much needed medical and dental care without having to travel ‘over the hill’ to our hospital in San Mateo,” Mesinger said in an email. “Many of our patients are elderly or have modest incomes, and many are farmworker families with limited ability to travel for their medical care.”
Horsley said purchasing the property also provides longer-term assurances to those in need, including tens of thousands of San Mateo County residents whose health insurance could be affected by changes at the federal level.
Uncertainties abound as Republicans’ president-backed proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act winds through Congress. The bill includes considerably stripping federal support for Medicaid, including to states that expanded it to include the poor — as did California with Medi-Cal.
At the coastside clinic, 60 percent of patients have Medi-Cal while another 20 percent are supported by Medicare or a state-funded program. The remaining 20 percent are uninsured and receive care through a county program under the Health Plan of San Mateo, according to Mesinger.
While it’s not yet known how the shakeup in Washington, D.C., will trickle down to local communities, Horsley said having county ownership of the coastside clinic property could help stabilize the ship.
“With the new administration, I don’t know what will happen to the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare. But if they do demolish it, we’ve done some preliminary work and we know we have about 150,000 people countywide on Medi-Cal,” Horsley said, noting 30,000 may be expected to lose health insurance. “We would rather take care of them in our clinics as opposed to the emergency room. So that clinic has got to be ready to handle not only the remaining Medi-Cal patients, but people who have no health care and who are sick.”
The clinic building was upgraded almost seven years ago with the help of a program under former President Barack Obama. The county took over operations in 2010 after the former nonprofit running the facility went bankrupt. With a $1.8 million federal grant, the county was able to remodel the facility and construct the dental clinic as well as exam rooms, according to a staff report.
Patients at the clinic who need more specialized care also have access to the larger county medical center in San Mateo. The clinic has also dispatched mobile services to more remote areas of the county coastline.
“This is the key location for us on the coastside to provide numerous medical services. It’s a key component of our health system,” said board Vice President Dave Pine. “With the purchase of the building, we certainly will be provider of extensive health care services on the coast for many, many years to come.”
Purchasing the property is also thought to be a cost savings as the county would no longer be under a lease through which it was paying an estimated 85 percent markup as compared to other commercial leases in Half Moon Bay, according to the report.
The county paid about $808,000 in rent and operating expenses last year alone, and costs were expected to rise. The $8.2 million purchase price will land the county ownership of a portion of the commercial complex along Highway 1 known as Shoreline Station.
“It’s a good financial move and it gives us a lot of certainty and control over the site,” Pine said. “Generally speaking, I’m of the view that it’s economically advantageous for the county to own its properties if it anticipates essentially needing them for generations to come; and this is a need that we will continue to have.”
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