By Reggie Ellis

Just two years after opening across the street from the old Lindsay hospital, Vida Sana Medical Clinic is on its way to being an integral part of health care in the South Valley.

The clinic, which celebrated its second anniversary on July 12, has helped bridge the gap in health care for Lindsay's population, which is 78% Hispanic or Latino, by offering culturally competent treatment.

&#8220If someone grew up in Mexico and you discover they have diabetes many doctors will tell you, ‘You can no longer have tortillas, rice, beans, etc.,'” said Mario Celaya, owner and physician assistant at the clinic. &#8220That might be their whole diet. What we do is work on one thing, such cutting out rice or using vegetable oil instead of grease.”

Their cultural approach and bilingual staff is what made them a natural to partner with the City of Lindsay on its Wellness Center, an $8 million one-stop medical center that will provide holistic and preventative medical services for Tulare, Kings, Kern and Fresno county.

Brad Albert, wellness/recreation director for the City of Lindsay, said the clinic would move into a 16,000 square-foot facility adjacent to the Wellness Center, acting as a point of entry for medical diagnosis and treatment referral. Many city employees already go to the clinic for their health care.

&#8220They will be the primary health care and then can refer people to other services in the Wellness Center, such as cooking classes for those with diabetes,” Albert said.

The genesis of the Wellness Center was to fill the gap in healthcare services left after the closure of the Lindsay District Hospital in 2000. A 2002 survey of 575 Lindsay residents found that many community members don't seek medical services due to a lack of transportation, insurance or money. The survey also revealed that 44.3% of Lindsay's youth are considered overweight or obese and that there were significant cultural and linguistic barriers in clinical medicine. The Lindsay Unified School District reported that 10% of its student population is from Michoacan, or 300 out of 3,000 students.

Celaya, who was raised in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, said in Mexico grandmothers are the doctors of the house, offering a lifetime of knowledge of herbal medicine and home remedies for families living miles away from the nearest hospital. Many people also go to local medicine men, called coronderos.

&#8220Western medicines tells them not to listen to their grandmother or local healer,” Celaya said. &#8220But that is the way their family has done things for generations. If it isn't bad for them it can't hurt. We want to bring that world together with medical treatment, to be more sensitive to their culture.”

Celaya and Ben Cordova, the clinic's administrator, were part of the 23-member delegation from Lindsay that visited Michoacan in May. While there, they noticed that health care took a more holistic approach. Elderly residents were in taking dance classes, making arts and crafts and selling them for profit.

&#8220Many seniors here go home and sit in front of the TV,” Cordova said. &#8220By keeping them active, you not only make them healthier physically, but mentally by giving them a purpose, a sense of self worth and accomplishment.”

Keeping people active, Celaya said, solves a lot of the health problems identified in Lindsay, such as diabetes, which is four times higher than the national average.

Their understanding of &#8220old-world” cultural practices does not mean Vida Sana is living in the past. Each of the exam rooms is equipped with a laptop computer that can access a database of electronic medical records (EMR). The system allows the doctor to know what medications the patient has been taking, which they are allergic to, when their last doctor visit was and past referrals - all without shuffling through a thick manila folder.

&#8220The doctors prefer this system once they get used to it because all the information they need can be accessed quickly,” Celaya said.

The clinic is also working toward telemedicine with doctors in Michoacan. Patients would be able to talk to a doctor living in Mexico who might be more familiar with their diet and culture. Mexican doctors could also help in establishing treatment programs that have been successful in the patient's native city or region.

&#8220What we are doing with the Wellness Center, they have been doing in Mexico for 50 years already,” Cordova said.

Vida Sana has already been designated as a Rural Health Clinic, a long and arduous certification process that provides federal and state money to subsidize the operation of the clinic. The designation will allow the clinic to expand services in anticipation of partnering with the Wellness Center, such as offering transportation as far as Terra Bella.

More than 33% of Lindsay's families live below the poverty, making trips from the doctor to the pharmacy to the physical therapist a difficult task. &#8220Just taking time off work to go to a doctor's appointment can be hard,” Albert said. On top of that, if you don't own your own car, now you have to find a way to get to the pharmacy and then get back to work, things can get even more difficult.

&#8220I think transportation is a serious obstacle for health care in the Valley,” Albert said. &#8220I think there are people who aren't going to the doctor when they need to because they can't find or afford a way to get there.”

The Wellness Center should be completed in 12 to 18 months, and Vida Sana will be there, greeting them in two languages and two cultures.

Celaya is joined by physician assistant Lourdes Olivares, pediatrician Jorge Rivera and family practice doctor Antonio Dorazo. Vida Sana Medical Clinic is located at 755 N. Sequoia Ave. Suite B in Lindsay. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to noon on Friday. For more information, call 562-9399.

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