While local healthcare start up Calexico Wellness Center seeks to serve the many in the city with inadequate or no health insurance, it has run into a major funding snag with no resolution in sight.
The roadblock occurred on June 20 when the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District board denied its request for $371,000 in funding, which a company official said was about 70 percent of its planned operating expenses for its first year.
Calexico Wellness is located at 420 Heffernan Ave. It opened June 4.
Even though the board vote on funding was a 2-2 tie, that still meant denial and to date the board has not shown interest in revisiting the matter.
Heffernan board President Hector Martinez and Director Norma Apodaca voted no with Director Sylvia Bernal abstaining because of a conflict of interest, Calexico Wellness Chief Operating Officer Inette Dominguez said in a July 11 phone interview.
Reached by phone on July 12, Martinez explained why he voted no saying that initially Calexico Wellness requested two year's funding but then revised it to one year and offered to repay the funds within five years. He said the request was for a substantial amount and there is no guarantee the venture will succeed.
"They reasoned the center was a primary care facility but there's already the Pioneers Calexico Health Center and the El Centro Regional Medical Center (in Calexico)," said Martinez.
He added, "They were not offering any advantage to the citizens because patients still had to pay through their insurance, so it was just a community grant for them to open a business. If they make another request that demonstrates a benefit to citizens--maybe offering some free services, I would reconsider my vote."
Further complicating matters is that Heffernan’s oversight agency, the Imperial Local Agency Formation Commission, has authority over district expenditures and may not be on board with funding Calexico Wellness.
Dominguez said that prior to the June 20 meeting LAFCO Executive Officer Jurg Heuberger informed the center he would review their data and offer an opinion. Heuberger had sent Calexico Wellness a letter with a list of questions he requested answers to in mid-June, she added. Heuberger was concerned the clinic may not receive the 10,000 annual visits needed to break even, she said.
The clinic responded but has not received a reply from Heuberger, Dominguez said.
This newspaper posed several questions to Heuberger by e-mail, but in a July 12 e-mail response he did not answer them and stated, “Have not issued any further opinions at this time.”
At the Heffernan board meeting on July 11 Heuberger was scheduled to appear yet did not attend. Both Dominguez and Chief Executive Officer Blanca Morales did appear and signed the public comments request to address the board. Yet after 25 minutes the board adjourned to meet in closed session without Morales or Dominguez speaking.
Despite the tribulations, Calexico Wellness officials said they are pressing on as they believe their mission noble.
Recently the four administrators--Dominguez, Morales, Chief Financial Officer Frank Adamitis and physician Vital Aizin--provided the clinic with about $200,000 of their own pooled funds, Dominguez added.
Additionally, the clinic is getting contracts with Medicare, Medi-Cal, Blue Cross and Blue Shield so when the clinic bills patient services the medical insurance companies will reimburse them, Dominguez explained.
"We want to be proactive,” said Morales. "There's 24,000 people in Calexico who are at or below the 200-percent-of-poverty level. So we'll service patients without insurance. And we'll pre-pay for patients with vouchers who don't drive."
She added, "There's lots of asthma, obesity and hypertension in Imperial Valley so we're reaching out, doing Facebook, the county health fair in October and other community events."
Dominguez said Heffernan should support Calexico Wellness because “they don't have a clinic that they collaborate with and that's what they're supposed to be doing."
The clinic offers cardiology, gastroenterology and a liver specialist with a focus on hepatitis C, as well as telemedicine.
"This is where the future of medicine is heading," said Dominguez.