Nonprofit healthcare provider Los Barrios Unidos has opened a nearly $10 million health clinic in south Oak Cliff, an area on the eastern border of a congressional district that has the nation’s highest uninsured rate.
Located about two miles west of the Westmoreland DART station, the clinic sits in the 4700 block of Illinois Ave., across from Mountain View College and not far from the Dallas Police Department’s Southwest Division headquarters. According to Census data, about 37 percent of residents here were uninsured in 2014, the most recent statistics available. The congressional district of which it is part, the 33rd, represented by the Democrat Marc Veasey, has an uninsured rate of about 38 percent.
There are about 74,000 people in this 75211 ZIP code, and now they have access to a 20,000 square foot, state-of-the-art health clinic that will charge patients on a sliding scale based on their income, regardless of their ability to pay or whether they have an insurance card. About two-thirds of Los Barrios Unidos patients—including its larger clinic in West Dallas on Singleton Blvd. just west of Fort Worth Ave.—are uninsured.
And so on Thursday evening, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, briefly paused the ribbon cutting ceremony and had all the three dozen staffers present gather in the middle of the crowd of about 75 in the spacious lobby. He ordered attendees to hold hands—and, yes, even this reporter: “oh, the media can’t join hands?” West quipped—and reminded the caregivers that they have the support of everyone in the room.
“We say to you that it takes a village? Your village is surrounding you. You can be assured that you have our support, our unwavering support, for what you do,” West said. “And so as a community we say thank you for what you’ve done, what you continue to do, and we look forward to the amazing things that you will do in the future.”
It’s been a long road since 2011, when LBU won a $5 million federal grant to build a facility that would treat all the children and adults who walk through its doors. The nonprofit raised another $1.6 million from private donations and groups like the United Way, which has pledged $180,000 a year for the next three years to pay a physician’s salary. Los Barrios secured additional financing. It bought a seven-acre plot of land. Its officials navigated the bureaucratic maze of getting its location rezoned to even be able to open a clinic on that stretch of Illinois Avenue. It bounced around architects, builders, subcontractors. But on Oct. 31, the center saw its first pediatric patients. And last month, it signed a contract with its first primary care physician, who will primarily see adults.
And now, there’s this brand new clinic, bedecked in pristine white paint and accented with dark grey stone columns. It is a spacious one-story building with plenty of natural light and 19 clinical offices—seven for adults and a dozen pediatric. There are two additional offices to help parents participate in the Texas WIC program, which reimburses low income families who buy healthy food and take part in dietary classes. There is room to help enroll uninsured children in the CHIP program, to help enroll adults in an Obamacare plan if they qualify.
The Cigna Foundation has provided a $97,000 grant to expand an asthma education program that, when instituted at LBU’s primary West Dallas clinic on Singleton Ave., dropped emergency room visits at Parkland Memorial Hospital for asthma cases by 27 percent from 2015 to 2016. Los Barrios Unidos executives expect to see 6,000 patients at the new facility in its first year.
“A lot of people don’t realize this because Dallas is such a prosperous place—you talk about Toyota coming to town and so many people moving here by the thousands, it seems, every month to come here for new jobs, but I have the highest uninsured rate out of any congressional district in the entire country,” Veasey said. To have an organization like Los Barrios to help fill in the needs and to help people have access to the best healthcare services, to help people get involved in the Affordable Care Act and the various things they do, it’s great for the community.”
The clinic will start off with two full-time pediatric clinicians and the aforementioned primary care physician, as well as a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, and behavioral specialists. All patients older than 12 will be evaluated for depression or another mental health condition and steered to one of the planned two behavioral health clinicians if necessary. The testing devices—for blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc.—are all digital and immediately transfer the results to the clinic’s electronic health record.
Joining Veasey and West on Thursday were councilmen Erik Wilson and Casey Thomas, both of whom lamented the lack of access to healthcare in their districts. Thomas, who represents District 3 where the clinic is located, praised Los Barrios Unidos for opening up a building the community could be proud to come to: “We’re excited not only about the physical presence of the building, but those families who are going to be helped just by having the opportunity to come to a building like this to come receive the highest quality of care.”
But the challenge to access to care hung over the proceedings, and it felt like a bit of a release for these folks to see something this size begin seeing patients. State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, immediately referenced wishing for Medicaid expansion and just as quickly moved on to the realistic impact that the clinic could have on a community that may not be used to getting checkups and other preventive services. It summed up the evening neatly.
“My dad died at 47. We’re farm workers. Nobody talked about healthcare, nobody talked about, you know, your high blood pressure and what you eat and what’s going to happen,” he said. “Nobody talked about that. But I believe Los Barios Unidos is going to bring preventive care and talk about it to make people live longer.”