For the kids
Northern Valley Indian Health expanded its children’s center in January, taking on more patients and hiring more pediatricians.
Between the walls of Chico’s former Shoe Pavilion last Thursday afternoon, a newborn dozed in a carrier while Dad checked in at the front desk, a boy scampered away from a scale, a child wailed and a mother laughed during a conversation with a nurse, cradling a toddler in her arms.
Nurse Manager Andrea Schulken capitalized on some spare time, adding decorations to Northern Valley Indian Health’s new exam rooms in anticipation of the grand opening for its Children’s Health Center’s relocation and expansion this Friday (March 9). Colorful cartoon stickers cover the walls where patients will be seen: In one, wide-eyed birds peek out from a hot-air balloon next to a butterfly mobile. Throughout the new office are striking close-up images of Native American artifacts from the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria, photographed by NVIH CEO Inder Wadhwa.
Dr. Lourdes Valdez, the center’s lead medical provider, loves working at the new office on Springfield Drive, mostly for the benefits it now provides the center’s most valuable customers: the kids. Two features made possible by the relocation from Cohasset Road, for example, are a scale and exam table that adequately accommodate children who use wheelchairs and other similar equipment in their daily lives.
NVIH provides medical and dental health care, along with educational programs and screenings, in Chico, Red Bluff, Willows and Woodland. Though its focus is on clients of Native American descent, NVIH serves all community members, including those who have Medi-Cal or may be lacking insurance.
At the new children’s center, there’s more space, so NVIH will be able to hire more medical providers, and, in turn, increase its number of patients, newborn to 18 years old, receiving preventative, acute, chronic and limited mental health care. There will be four new medical providers, making 10 total, another six nurses and six office staff members and one more social worker (two total). It’s hard to say exactly how many new patients the center has brought in at this time, Wadhwa told the CN&R, but he estimates patient capacity will be increased by about 50 percent once hiring is complete.
Physically, the office has grown from 14 to 19 exam rooms, all equipped with upgraded technology, including a new hearing testing room and vitals room and two more infant exam rooms (bringing the total to four). A dietitian will soon begin visiting and consulting with patients and families once a week, as well, and the center already has a lactation consultant. NVIH’s behavioral health and outreach offices made the move to the new spot, too.
NVIH has been aware of the growing need for all primary providers, including pediatricians, in the community, Wadhwa said, and has been working on the expansion for about three years, funding it directly with its own resources.
Wadhwa said the nonprofit has come a long way, and is fortunate to be in such a position to provide this for its patients.
“Definitely the community has a severe need for more providers, because there are not a lot of pediatricians and not a lot of pediatric facilities that accept Medi-Cal and under-served populations,” he said. “It’s a nationwide problem,” he added, especially in rural areas like Butte County.
Dr. Andrew Miller, Butte County Public Health officer, said that in Chico the shortage of pediatricians in particular has been made more obvious by the retirement of several established, experienced doctors at the same time.
“Sometimes there’s no one to get in to see, so people go without care or without timely care,” Miller said. “And it makes it more likely that people will use things like prompt cares and emergency rooms when they either can’t get a primary pediatrician or can’t get into the one they have because [the pediatrician is] so busy.”
Recruitment is very difficult because everybody is competing for the same source: a diminishing supply of primary care doctors and pediatricians. In Chico, Miller, former medical director of NVIH, said that several providers, including Enloe Medical Center, Chico Pediatrics, Ampla Health and NVIH, have been active and working on trying to bring more pediatric care to the area.
It’s very difficult for local communities to address such challenges given the current state of health care, Miller said. “Ultimately, probably what will have to happen is it will have to become more of a crisis in more places for it to be addressed either at the state level or national level.”
Valdez said she believes NVIH is doing its best to increase the primary care services offered in the community. Just having an upgraded facility has improved its recruitment capabilities and drummed up interest in the area.
“It’s something to be proud of, and I think people see that,” Valdez said. “We want to provide the best medical pediatric care to our children. That’s our goal. With all the providers, nurses, ancillary staff and available local resources and programs in the North State, we are working hard together to make this happen”
Another benefit is the renewed sense of pride staff has at the new location, said Site Manager Megan Burgess. Everything is much more organized, allowing them to work with greater efficiency.
Valdez said the work the center provides is quite “comprehensive” and often a community effort. “It’s about not only us providing the services, but connecting [families to] all the resources available for children, to make sure they get the best care they can,” she said.
Some examples of these resources include a partnership the center has with the UC Davis MIND Institute that allows children and their parents to participate in telemedicine video conversations with specialty providers of neurology, psychiatry, endocrinology and gastroenterology.
Since November 2015, the center has also participated in the national program Reach Out and Read, and, with the help of First 5 Butte County Children & Families Commission, has given more than 6,000 books during check ups to children aged 6 months to five-years-old to encourage literacy. It also provides developmental screenings for children, referring them to Far Northern Regional Center if needed, and services for postpartum and maternal depression.
“It is not only a medical evaluation and treatment and ‘bye,’” Valdez said. “It is also about educating and empowering the child and their parents.”