If a deal is finalized soon, as expected, medical options will expand on the North Coast, bringing more services for residents and visitors.
A nonprofit medical foundation affiliated with Tenet California plans to bring a new set of medical professionals and services to Cambria, including X-ray facilities. The estimated opening date is early 2018.
John Linn of Linnvestments said Monday, July 31, that he and First California Physicians Partners (FCPP) have agreed in concept on nearly all the terms for the medical partnership to lease the entire main floor of the three-story medical building at 2150 Main St.
The agreement would cap more than two years of research, planning and dogged negotiating by representatives of the Cambria Community Healthcare District (CCHD), a committee of health care professionals and a host of interested North Coast residents.
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Tenet owns Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, Twin Cities Community Hospital, Selma Carlson Diagnostic Center, Templeton Imaging, MedPost Urgent Care in Templeton and three outpatient labs, including the one in Cambria.
Linn said in a July 31 phone interview that a few sticking points remained in the deal, including cost, sharing of tenant-improvement expenses and other elements.
Even so, he said he’s “pretty committed to making this work on a long-term basis for the benefit of the community.”
FCPP is “the fastest growing medical group in the county, especially for primary care,” said spokeswoman Brenda Reynolds. The group has nine family practice/internal medicine sites, with two more “in process,” including the one on the North Coast. There also are two specialty-care facilities and two for women’s health.
Reynolds said her plan is to have a doctor and nurse practitioner assigned permanently to the Cambria office, with specialists and others there occasionally or as needed. But she added that the ultimate staffing will depend on demand.
Cambria’s been on my list a long time. We’re coming to be part of the community, to give good medical care.
Brenda Reynolds, FCPP spokeswoman
“Cambria’s been on my list a long time,” she said. “We’re coming to be part of the community, to give good medical care.” But the last thing they want to be known as is “the company that came in and moved around these small businesses. They’re in a medical building, doing nonmedical services, but they’re in the community, doing a good job.”
Linn said he considers the deal to be “a huge help in a longstanding, very inconvenient situation for people in Cambria. We’ve all experienced this for years, having to trek 30 miles out of town to get medical services that we needed, such as X-ray, specialists, or to just see a GP. I see this as a real positive move, a help not only for the locals but for the visitors who might need stitches or X-rays.”
The medical building has downtown Cambria’s only commercial elevator. Linn said the main floor also has several bathrooms, some of which may be relocated within the area’s approximately 3,200 square feet.
The building is fully occupied now, Linn said, so “it’s not like I had to do” a deal to fill it with tenants. But the Linn family also has suffered through the commuting-to-doctors routine.
“We’re working parents,” he said, because he and wife Renee are raising two of their grandchildren. When the youngsters had pneumonia last year, “we were chasing all over the county to get care for them.”
Reynolds said the Sierra Vista lab will remain in its present location in the medical building, but services there will expand to include an X-ray machine that will be digitally connected to Sierra Vista’s radiology department. Decades ago, the Cambria lab had X-ray facilities, but the outdated equipment was removed in 1998. Since then, the lab has provided blood-draw and related laboratory services.
There’ll be some major remodeling of the main floor, including expanding the lab into part of an adjacent suite for the X-ray machine. That’s approximately where it used to be, Reynolds said.
We’ve all experienced this for years, having to trek 30 miles out of town to get medical services that we needed ...
John Linn, building owner
The other tenants on that floor are being asked to move to other locations. Linn said Monday he was in the process of notifying them.
He said those businesses include: Esthetician Rachelle Stambal’s True Skin; Sheila Youngs’ beauty salon, the Fringe Hair Studio; esthetician Yvonne Casas’ Skincare of Cambria; and Jolene Tafoya’s Vyana massage therapy studio. Linn said another tenant, Cherish Home Health, is already in the process of moving to San Luis Obispo.
The relocations may require some careful negotiating. For instance, Vyana moved in about six months ago, and has a “long-term lease,” according to Tafoya’s husband Joe Vergara. They hadn’t yet been formally notified of the change, he said by phone Monday, July 31. “At this point, we are planning to stay,” but he added they’re willing to talk about it and consider their options.
Vergara said the change ultimately “makes sense for the community. I have had experience with FCPP, and they’re high-quality people.” He said that, in general, he believes the expansion of medical services “is a great potential addition to the town.”
The medical building’s upper-floor tenants (physician Robert Gong and dentist Frank Fratto) won’t be affected by the deal.
The back story
In the past, it has been difficult at times for Cambria to get and keep medical providers in the long term, partly because of the community’s remote location and distance to hospital facilities. While some doctors (such as Joseph Allen and David McBride) served the community for decades, some others were only in town briefly.
CCHD owns property, a medical building and ambulance-crew facilities at 2515-2535 Main St. and provides ambulance services, health care education and other services. The medical building’s current tenant is Community Health Centers.
According the CCHD online history at http://bit.ly/2u1gC2m, the agency’s forerunner, the Cambria Hospital District, was authorized, by county supervisors on Dec. 6, 1947, “to attract physicians and dentists to locate their practice to the community.”
The district includes the area from the Monterey County line to Villa Creek and the Santa Lucia ridgeline.
In 1951, the district took over ambulance services from the Chamber of Commerce. In 1957, the district bought two lots for $3,500 and began building its Main Street clinic, with medical offices to be leased “at a nominal rate.” The facilities were expanded in 1967 and 1971.
In recent times, other factors in the difficult process of attracting doctors to Cambria have been limited appropriate office space and the high cost of housing and living expenses.
Making it happen
The campaign to expand North Coast medical services began concurrently on two separate tracks a couple of years ago.
In mid-2015, Shirley Bianchi (former county supervisor and former director of Cambria’s hospital district board) had a minor infection that was getting worse. She drove herself to her doctor’s Atascadero office for treatment and an antibiotic prescription, because Bianchi’s husband Bill had just had surgery, and couldn’t do chauffeur duty.
On the way back home, the then-85-year-old Bianchi said to herself, “‘You know, lady, you’re lucky you could drive yourself. A lot of people your age in Cambria can’t.’ I decided that there needed to be more choices for medical services here.” So she went to work on making that happen.
At the same time, a committee of nurses and other medical professionals led by registered dietitian/PHD Laurie Mileur of Cambria and CCHD Trustee Barbara Bronson Gray was forming to study the area’s medical services. Eventually, the CCHD Health Professionals Committee surveyed community members about what was missing in Cambria and which services residents needed most.
“The survey got a 16 percent response, which is extraordinary,” Bianchi said. “That gave us the data to support the fact that we did indeed need expanded medical services.”
Mileur said recently that “our local medical providers give outstanding care to their patients. Unfortunately, these providers are only able to meet the needs of one in three of our residents,” according to the 2016 survey.
Bronson Gray and Mike McLaughlin (a CCHD trustee who died in August 2016), kept pushing the concept of adding more medical services to town, and, from the outside, so did Bianchi and others.
CCHD administrator Bob Sayers, the trustees and others took the concept and data to Tenet, Dignity Health and Community Health Centers.
In the meantime, Bianchi was elected and Bronson Gray re-elected to the CCHD Board of Trustees, and discussions with Tenet were producing results.
If and when the deal is finalized, as the participants expect it will be, the result will be expanded health care services on the North Coast.
“This, my friends, is what health care districts do,” Bronson Gray posted on Facebook on July 27. CCHD, “with the data collected from its community health survey, actively recruited these much-needed medical services.”
Primary care in Cambria
Current primary-care providers in Cambria include:
Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, with nurse practitioner Cesilia Lomeli and other health care providers in a network similar in concept to FCPP’s.
Dr. Robert Gong.
Chiropractor Kirk Azevedo and his CORE Care office in partnership with regenerative medicine physician Jamie Nuwer from Palo Alto, who is there several days a month and also doing telemedicine. Physical therapist Ken Bariel is at the Cambria office daily, and acupuncturist Jennifer Wallace is there several days a week. Azevedo and Nuwer are in negotiations to add another doctor, nurse practitioner and physicians’ assistant. CORE Care medical equipment already includes an X-ray machine, electrocardiogram (EKG), diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound and cold laser therapy.