Clinic to undergo surgery

MENDOTA -- Mayor Robert Silva still remembers what this west Fresno County city looked like before United Health Centers built its community health clinic here in September 1992.

"Believe me, there was absolutely nothing here but cotton fields and coyotes," Silva said, as he stood on the grounds of United Health Centers' 20-year-old clinic in the city, known as the Cantaloupe Center of the World.

Within a year, that once-open land will become home to an expanded health center -- featuring state-of-the-art technology and board-certified providers -- that is expected to improve access to medical care for more than 7,500 enrolled patients.

During a groundbreaking ceremony last Thursday morning, Silva said he was grateful that the new clinic would make medical care even more accessible for residents of the impoverished farmworker city of 10,410 people, which is 97.1 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census.

"In hard economic times, it is hard for people to travel to Fresno and Madera," for medical care, Silva said. "When you have a facility right here that has everything, of course the people are going to come."

The construction project will replace a 2,500-square-foot building at the Mendota clinic with a 12,000-square-foot facility. The clinic will also gain three new medical providers and two new dental providers, and add specialty care, optometry, behavioral health, and case management services.

The construction is funded by a nearly $4 million capital development grant, awarded through the Affordable Care Act in October 2010. It is expected to be completed by the summer of 2012.

The much-needed expansion will allow the clinic to maintain its goal of providing top-quality care to all patients, regardless of their financial situation or immigration status, said Dr. James Smurr, a longtime doctor at the Mendota clinic.

"For a long time, it has been at the point where there just so many patients, it is hard to see them all," he said. "We've entered into this whole venture with the idea of trying to provide for these folks the same type of health care that you would get in North Fresno."

For Mendota resident Esmeralda Pérez, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony with her 7-year-old daughter, Hayden, the expansion means members of her community -- especially farmworker families with just one car -- will continue to receive care at a convenient location.

"A lot of people here in the community don't have means of transportation to go out anywhere else (for medical care) so this is perfect for them," she said.

Carla Peñaloza, who attended the event with her 1-year-old son Joaquín, said the clinic also offers friendly and affordable care for farmworkers and undocumented people.

"It is like family," she said of the clinic. "Everybody knows everybody here, so you feel comfortable."

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