Tulare County decides to go forward with new public health clinic

Board of supervisors approve bid to construct a modernized public health clinic on Dinuba Boulevard in Visalia

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County’s newest public health clinic is underway, and it will provide some much needed upgrades to their current facility.

It might come as some surprise that this clinic has not been spurred on by the pandemic. Instead, according to Tulare County public health officer, Karen Elliott, building a new clinic has been 10 years in the making.

“This has been a long time, I mean, seriously, years. The thought came about because we need a good tuberculosis clinic,” Elliott said. “We do clinic services at the Hillman complex in the annex and we’ve outgrown that a long time ago.”

Contractors have not laid out plans quite yet, but the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a bid opening from three different construction firms earlier this month. Each one bid the project at over $3 million. The county engineer estimate’s the project to cost $2,950,000. The plan is to locate the clinic on Dinuba Boulevard in Visalia near the Visalia Health Care Center and Fairview Village Park.

Among the additional capabilities that Elliott noted was a negative air pressure room. She said that if an active case of tuberculosis (TB) comes into the clinic, they have to prevent spores from becoming airborne. TB is a disease caused by bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis that usually attacks the lungs, but they can also damage other parts of the body.

This is not something they can do at the Hillman Complex where they currently work. Elliott expects to have a dedicated waiting room for active TB cases instead of having them sit next to other patients also in the waiting room.

“That was probably the reason we initially started looking at this. And again, it has been years in the making. So, we’ve put aside funding just for this,” Elliott said.

According to 2019 Health and Human Services Agency statistics for Tulare County, there were 13 TB cases. But that is not the only disease the clinic deals with. Elliott said they also treat people with sexually transmitted diseases that need specialized medications that someone’s primary physician may not have access to.

In 2019 alone the county public health clinic encountered 3,471 cases of chlamydia, 881 cases of gonorrhea and 85 early syphilis cases.

“It’s another opportunity for us to have a clinic that serves those patients when they need to pick up medications,” Elliott said. “And it will allow us during flu season to hold flu clinics, it also allows us to do some HIV case management that we also do at the Hillman complex.”

Planning was already underway for the newest county clinic when the pandemic began, but COVID-19 has given it new emphasis. Elliott said a modernized public health clinic that can handle testing would have been helpful.

“No one expected for us to go through a pandemic. Having a modernized clinic would have been just another asset in our pocket that we would have had for public health and any other outbreak that we might deal with,” Elliott said.

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