How health care clinics answered the call

Samuel Dixon Family Health Center CEO Philip Soloman, left, stands beside CMO Dr. Samuel Dixon III and other office staff in their Newhall office. April 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

While the pandemic shuttered countless businesses, others in the health care industry saw an influx.

As hospitals faced an unprecedented surge, most urgent care centers and health care clinics across the Santa Clarita Valley also saw an uptick in patients.

In addition to the large-scale health care centers, the SCV is home to a number of smaller clinics, all of whom have spent the last year rolling with the waves of the pandemic. 

Samuel Dixon Family Health Center

The Samuel Dixon Family Health Center celebrated its 40th anniversary doing what it’s done for 40 years: finding ways to treat patients safely — only now, in the midst of a pandemic. 

“Our biggest thing was to support our patients that had ongoing illnesses,” said Dr. Samuel Dixon III, the center’s chief medical officer. “We spent a lot of time adapting.” 

The center quickly adapted to the telehealth model, finding ways to treat most of its patients virtually, while also adapting to changes in public health guidance, Dixon explained.

Through the use of the PPP loan, as well as other local and state grants and resources and funding from the federal government, the clinic was able to continue pre-pandemic operations and maintain staffing levels to continue the same level of care.

Now more than a year later, the center is continuing to do a vast majority of its appointments virtually, with only a third coming in for in-person visits.

While Dixon expects in-person visits to continue picking up, he said telehealth is going to be great to add to the center’s repertoire of services, as it allows patients more flexibility with scheduling doctor’s visits.

“What the pandemic has forced us to do is really adapt how we deliver care, and internally, how we operate, so as we come out of the pandemic, this is really the norm of how we’re going to do business,” added Philip Solomon, the center’s CEO. “For some, it’s very convenient, and for our providers, if it’s a good way to provide the care, then we’re going to continue with that.” 

Samuel Dixon Family Health Center CMO Dr. Samuel Dixon III, discusses how the organization has adapted during the pandemic. April 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Exer Urgent Care

At Exer Urgent Care, CEO Rob Mahan said it’s been quite an adventure of a year, as its centers have seen a 400% increase in daily visits during the pandemic.

“We had quite a surge in terms of our demand, which just that by itself produces its own challenges and opportunities for us to try to figure out how to modify our processes,” Mahan said, adding that it also resulted in the hiring of 400 additional employees. 

Because Exer’s centers are staffed with trained emergency room doctors, this, along with its diagnostic equipment, allowed them to offer an alternative to ER visits during the height of the surge.

Exer nurse Jillian Lehr, right, performs a COVID-19 antibody test on Michael Tsaturyan, left, the manager at Exer’s Canyon Country facility, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

But as with other health centers, many of Exer’s innovations came through the use of telemedicine and other technological advancements, such as a virtual queue that was helpful during the surge, as it allowed patients to wait at home until it was their turn to be seen.

What would’ve typically taken six months or a year to get ramped up, was up and running in a matter of weeks due to the nature of the pandemic — which didn’t come without its challenges — yet, overall, the outcome was positive and something Mahan believes will be part of the long-term solution.

“It’s not a replacement, it’s a compliment to the services that are already being provided,” Mahan said of telehealth. “For certain patients, even post-pandemic, it’s going to make a lot of sense.” 

Henry Mayo Newhall Urgent Care in Valencia. 042021. Dan Watson/The Signal

Henry Mayo Newhall Urgent Care

At the onset of the pandemic, Henry Mayo Newhall Urgent Care had a 60%-75% decrease in patients, according to Angie Luna, the center’s supervisor. 

“There was a very, very prevalent fear of being out in public, and all the more, at the thought of venturing into a medical facility, so it just wasn’t being done, and unavoidably, numbers dipped drastically,” Luna said.

However, there was soon a bounce back, due, in part, to COVID-19 testing availability onsite, as well as to the overflow of patients who were unable to get appointments with their primary care providers because their medical groups were downsizing their own operations, Luna added.

COVID-19 testing is up 200% at Henry Mayo Newhall Urgent Care in Valencia. 042021. Dan Watson/The Signal

As the pandemic has progressed, it’s COVID-19 testing that has continued at an increased rate, as athletes, employees or travelers are being required to show proof of negative results, in some cases weekly.

While Luna believes testing will decrease as vaccination rates increase, and that virtual services are here to stay, such as the center’s newly implemented online registration process.

“You don’t present us with an insurance card or driver’s license, that’s all uploaded by you online, so that’s a process that I feel we’ll continue to implement because it adds ease of access and it shortens the process,” Luna said.

Patients enter the lobby of SCV Quality Care in Valencia on Wednesday, 042121. Dan Watson/The Signal

SCV Quality Care

SCV Quality Care also saw a significant drop in patients at the start of the pandemic, according to owner Jeannette Hahm.

“It was pretty drastic,” Hahm said. “Business dropped tremendously … because everyone was scared to come in.” 

Much of the initial few months were spent easing those patients’ concerns, explaining the safety protocols in place, and while implementing televisits accommodated some patients, others with more severe illnesses were left with no choice but to go into the office.

“We had a lot of cases where people were so scared, and it was just a matter of talking to them, and helping them weigh the risk,” Hahm added. “It was just a matter of making them comfortable.”

Over the course of the year, Hahm saw the center’s business rise and fall, correlating somewhat to the COVID-19 figures being reported — when there was a surge in cases, business would drop, and vice versa.

Through it all, the center continued to see patients in-person, even those with COVID-19 symptoms, and even increased their acute outpatient care during peak surges so they could treat patients who they’d normally refer to the hospital. 

While providers at the center were hesitant to implement telemedicine, unsure of how they’d navigate treating patients without in-person examinations, many soon realized it was a great tool, if used in the appropriate matter, such as with patients with chronic conditions or minor illnesses.

“I think a lot of providers are seeing the benefits of it,” Hahm said, “as well as the limitations of it.” 

Medical Assistant Maite Narciso sanitizes equipment in an examination room at SCV Quality Care in Valencia on Wednesday, 042121. Dan Watson/The Signal

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