West County Health Center

Better clinic, better care

on October 22, 2012

Two weeks ago, hundreds of staff and movers transported the Richmond Health Center to its new home in San Pablo. This was one of the last steps in opening the doors to the West County Health Center, and it had been preceded by years of preparation.

The long-term planning process was fed by focus groups that considered staff and patient needs. Dr. Chris Farnitano, the WCHC ambulatory care medical director, said planners wanted a building that would “encourage a team-based community” in which doctors, nurses and medical aids are within earshot of one another. Doctors, nurses and staff at the WCHC now work side-by-side in shared offices.

Windows and skylights provide an open, light feel to the decentralized registration areas. Planners wanted to avoid herding patients to a large registration desk and opted to sector desks by function and provide a small office feel in a grand space.

Built-in environmental sustainability has made the building functional and friendly. Automatic timers and motion sensors control light switches and sinks, saving energy expenditures. Natural lighting, one energy report suggests, can increase wellbeing and decrease headaches, seasonal affective disorder and eyestrain.

A sloping staircase to one of the main entrances encourages patients to walk upstairs, and there are now two elevators – an upgrade over the one, unreliable elevator in the old clinic. Ward said it’s little things like having two elevators that people are pleased about.

On October 9, the WCHC saw its first patients, leaving a 45-year-old skeleton of a clinic in its wake in Richmond.

The late Richmond Health Center stands empty on 38th Street. It doesn’t appear anyone is sad about its loss.

“Old, dusty,” said Clerk Connie Ward, lip upturned and rocking in a comfortable chair in the new clinic. “It was not a place that would give the patients a good feeling about coming in.”

Planners also wanted to better sustain staff members. Ergonomic support for staff at desks and welcoming lounge spaces have raised morale in some.

“We feel more appreciated,” Ward said. “It has given all of us a better outlook on our positions.”

Paper and film records are no more; WCHC is the first medical facility in San Pablo to open business with a completely electronic medical record system. Space is spared and more importantly, doctors are able to compare records, providing better care to patients who may see physicians based in multiple locations.

The new center is open until 8:45 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and short-notice care is offered on Saturday.

Richmond resident Elaine Mapp said she’s always been a Kaiser patient, but after losing her job earlier this year, she was forced to seek county medical care. Mapp said she was glad to be seen during extended hours on Tuesday, after weeks of sorting out her new coverage.

An influx of patients is expected because of the new center’s close proximity to other medical centers, accessibility and visibility. The Richmond location hosted about 80,000 visits a year, while in San Pablo the center’s directors plan to host more than 100,000.

Richmond has lost a relic of its medical past, but the new clinic’s planners and directors said they hope residents can enjoy better service in a center designed with comfort and wellbeing in mind.

And plus, its pretty, “so if you gotta wait, its all right,” Ward said.

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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