By Hannah Guzik
The Ventura County Heath Care Agency should serve as a model nationwide of how to provide access to affordable treatment, Rep. Julia Brownley said Thursday.
The Westlake Village Democrat toured the Family Medicine Residency and Specialty Care Center at Ventura County Medical Center before visiting two other area clinics to commemorate National Health Center Week.
"My hat's off to all of you," said Brownley, who was elected this year to represent the 26th Congressional District, which covers much of Ventura County. "I think what you're doing here is really remarkable, and it's very clear to me that you're leaders of innovation and trailblazers for health clinics across the country in providing access to high quality health care that is affordable."
Agency officials briefed Brownley on how they're providing health insurance to 12,000 low-income residents, which has helped to cut VCMC emergency room visits in half over the past two decades.
"The idea is to put care into the community where people live instead of waiting for them to find us," County Executive Officer Mike Powers told Brownley during the tour in Ventura.
Brownley later visited Clinicas Del Camino Real in Oxnard and Planned Parenthood in Thousand Oaks.
She said President Barack Obama's health care reform plan, the Affordable Care Act, depends on the strength of health centers such as the three she visited, which aim to increase preventive care in the hope of cutting costs.
"I don't think it's going to be successful without the foundation of health care centers like this one," she said at the Ventura center. "It's a clear example of how we're going to implement health care reform overall."
County health officials told Brownley that their one request was that she try to preserve a federal program that provides public hospitals with discounts on medications, particularly those for cancer treatment.
"There's been some talk in Congress that that program's going to be pulled back, and that would be detrimental to us and our ability to provide care for cancer patients," said Joan Araujo, the county's deputy director of ambulatory care.
Thomas Duncan, a surgeon and co-director of VCMC's trauma department, also briefed Brownley on what area health officials are doing to curb gang violence.
When suspected gang members are admitted to the hospital with stabbing, gunshot or other wounds, Duncan and his staff send in social workers and anti-gang counselors, he said.
"It makes so much sense if we can talk to them when they're feeling vulnerable and not invincible, to build the team at that point," Brownley said.
The center also offers laser removal of gang tattoos in exchange for 40 hours of community service, which can include counseling to current gang members, Duncan said.
Supervisors Linda Parks and Kathy Long attended the Ventura tour and encouraged Brownley to consider making the county center her personal medical provider, as they have done.
"I love the opportunity to show off our health care system," Parks said. "It really is exceptional. I'm glad she recognizes that. It isn't an ordinary county center."