Willow Creek Community Health Center
Putting the Community in Community Health
“What we are doing here is providing absolutely personal care. We’ve been here a long time and this is our community. Patients come to us because this is their community health center,” says Norman Bensky, MD, medical director of the Willow Creek Community Health Center (WCCHC) and long-time Willow Creek resident. “This was my private practice. Then for a long time we were a clinic sponsored by St. Joseph Health Systems and now we’re a part of Open Door Community Health Centers. Through all of those organization changes, we have remained committed to quality healthcare and the Willow Creek community. We have always tried to be the “family doctor” for our friends and neighbors.”
“This clinic is an essential part of the community,” says Tamara Jenkinson, the coordinator of the Willow Creek Community Resource Center.
The Resource Center, operated by St. Joseph Health System – Humboldt County, is not part of the community health center, but it is located in the same building. “We work with a lot of the same people, providing different services while focusing on the same goals.”
“Having Tamara and the resource center next door is awesome,” says Erika Dykehouse, registered nurse and RN Coordinator of the Willow Creek Community Health Center. “There is a door between the resource center and the clinic. That door is open a lot, sometimes because we are sending a patient for services at Tamara’s office and sometimes because she is sending a community member to the clinic. We provide health care and the resource center provides the support services so many of our patients need.”
“I work closely with the clinic to serve our constituents well,” says Tamara. “We’re an outpost for lots of things. We help with patient assistance programs, senior services and finding caregivers, CalWorks, Medi-Cal applications, the County Mental Health branch; you name it and we’ll try to help. In one case, I walked into Ray’s Supermarket and saw a flyer for a job. I knew someone who had just lost their job. We sat down that day and worked on her application. Perfect timing. She got the job. “What we do supports the quality of life and what the clinic does supports the quality of health. It’s a good combination.”
“We don’t have a lot of direct services in our community. There is no hospital, no home health agency, no hospice and no specialty medical care providers in the Willow Creek community. We have to travel to the coast, or the services based on the coast have to travel to us. That is why our clinic has some things, like X-ray, that other Open Door clinics don’t have. We need to be able to take care of many things right here,” explains Dr. Bensky. In addition to his duties at the clinic, Dr. Bensky worked for many years at the emergency department of Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna. “I know Highway 299 better than I’d like to. It is not easy on a clear day when you are feeling healthy. It is a real trial for someone who is ill. Add in a snow storm, and it may become impossible. We’re committed to being responsive and flexible; we never know what’s coming.”
Bringing Resources to the Community
As Dr. Bensky notes, there are few direct services in Willow Creek. “It’s a great place to live, but you have to accept the fact that it is a small isolated town. Even grocery shopping can require a ‘trip down the mountain’ to the stores on the coast.
What we are doing here is providing absolutely personal care. We’ve been here a long time and this is our community. – Norman Bensky, MD
With the economy as bad as it is, and the cost of gas as high as it is, it is difficult for a lot of our patients to get the full range of care they need. Our population is getting older and the need for care is increasing at the same time the resources and patients’ ability to travel is decreasing.” In response, the Willow Creek Community Health Center is making more use of telemedicine, the linking of patients in Willow Creek with providers in other parts of the state using real-time video connections. “Telemedicine is so necessary here,” says Laura Earls, medical assistant and telehealth coordinator at the clinic. “We can connect our patients to services in Eureka just as easily as San Francisco or San Diego. We can access a wide range of specialty care, and our patients never have to leave the clinic.” Available telehealth services routinely include behavioral health, diabetic education and care, and specialists at UC-Davis and other medical centers in California. “We have several patients who participate in the buprenorphine treatment groups at NorthCountry Clinic in Arcata. They don’t have to spend the time and money to get to Arcata, they can connect from our clinic,” explains Laura. A busy medical assistant most of the time, Laura and the team at Willow Creek recognize the value of telemedicine. “My role goes beyond scheduling and making the video connection. I make sure to keep communications flowing between the patient and the specialist, and the specialist and our providers, and our providers and the patient. We often take on the responsibility for following through with the specialists recommendations, so understanding and communication is critical. I want to make sure the patient is informed, comfortable and part of the process. Our team is constantly looking for ways to connect our patients to available resources using telemedicine. Sometimes it is a connection to Eureka and sometimes to San Francisco. Whenever I can connect someone to the services they need using telehealth, think about the time, trouble and money it saves for the patient.”
Healthy Teens; Healthy Community
“Patients are always happy to hear that I am a member of the community,” says Kara Zartuche, nurse practitioner and coordinator of the recently launched Teen Clinic at the Willow Creek Community Health Center. Raised in Arcata and a former patient at one of Open Door’s clinics, Kara moved to Willow Creek when she took her job at the clinic there. “I’ve been here about six months. This is the community I want to live and work in.” Kara joined the staff at WCCHC after receiving completing the FNP program at Samuel Merritt University in December. “I am really happy to be here,” she beam. “I wanted to work in a family practice clinic. I see babies, teenagers, and older adults. I’m always learning something new, and I sincerely enjoy getting to know the people around here. With a small tight-knit community it is vital that I connect to the people who use this clinic, they are really my neighbors. Dr. Bensky introduces me to patients and that helps break the ice. It’s up to me to create the special relationships that make for partnerships with my patients.”
“I am passionate about teen choices and education,” states Kara. “Educated and informed young people make better choices about their behavior and about their health. I’m not on a soapbox but I am concerned about the health and future of our teens. And healthy young people help keep our community healthy.” With experience in school-based clinics, Kara has a head start in this area.
Modeled after successful Teen Clinics at other Open Door clinics in Arcata, Crescent City and McKinleyville, Kara eagerly volunteered to spearhead the development of this new program for Willow Creek. In establishing the Teen Clinic, Kara has consulted extensively with medical assistant Jackie Singletary, who will help staff the new clinic service, and the other providers and staff at the clinic. “I’ve also talked with people in the community, my neighbors and my family. We want to understand the need and the community and respond accordingly. Teens are going through so much change and growth and development. We provide medically accurate information about reproductive health and we also support the choice for abstinence.” The Willow Creek Teen Clinic provides a safe and confidential place to ask questions, discuss health issues and build confidence and trust. “Maintaining reproductive health is important; however, we want to offer a service that offers overall health care for teens, including options for care, resources to make informed decisions, and understanding to help alleviate the pressures that come with young adulthood.”
“First we need to establish a foundation of trust and privacy. And we want to create a warm, welcoming and informal atmosphere. Sure health care is serious, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly,” say Kara with a smile. Trained teen advocates, teenagers themselves, will serve as receptionists and resources at the Teen Clinic. “We want this to be a wonderful place to hang out if you have to wait to see me. This is a walk-in clinic, no appointment necessary, so sometimes there could be a delay. There are tables set up if you want to catch up on your homework, or read some of the information materials we have available. There is a small kitchen and we’ll fix snacks. Not your usual health center.” Walk-in Teen Clinics are offered every Tuesday from 2:00pm until 5:00pm at the Willow Creek Community Health Center. Services are available at other times by appointment.
Kara invites dialogue.”Community members are welcome to stop by the Willow Creek clinic and talk to us. We welcome your questions and comments.” For more information, please visit www.opendoorteenclinic.com.