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October 5, 2022

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Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD) provides high-quality health care and supportive services to San Diegans, with a special commitment to uninsured, low-income and medically-underserved individuals. We spoke with Fran Butler-Cohen, FHCSD CEO, to learn more about their work and continued commitment to serving all San Diegans in need of healthcare services.   

Can you tell me more about the programs, services and/or events you offer?  

FHCSD serves those who are not served in the mainstream healthcare environment. We encourage anyone who is having trouble gaining access to healthcare services to come to FHCSD. Our goal is to make healthcare accessible for patients in their own community.  

We have over 60 locations and mobile units across San Diego County including 22 primary care clinics, 18 behavioral health facilities, 8 dental clinics, an outpatient substance use treatment program, 4 vision clinics, physical therapy departments, 2 mobile counseling centers, 3 mobile medical units and a pharmacy. We also operate a large variety of specialty care services including cardiology, infectious disease specialists, dermatology and endocrinology, to name a few.   

Why is workforce development important to your organization’s mission?  

Having skilled, well-trained service providers that are also familiar with the communities they serve is critical to ensure that San Diegans can receive the quality care they deserve by physicians they can trust.  

Unlike other workforce sectors, many positions in healthcare take years of training to gain proficiency—these workers are not easily replaced. There is a critical need to ensure that the healthcare workforce in San Diego has the staffing it needs today while also preparing for the growing needs of tomorrow. 

Our Family Medicine Residency Program is one such program working to meet that critical need in San Diego. Each year we receive over 1,000 applications hoping to match with one of the six available slots in our residency program. Our hope is when these physicians complete their training, they will decide to stay with FHCSD and continue to serve the San Diego community. Many do stay—in fact this year, we contracted with all six graduates. They choose us because of the community populations we serve, such as immigrants and asylum seekers, unsheltered persons, LGBTQ, economically-disadvantaged families and those with chronic diseases. We have an array of over 50 languages that our patients speak across the organization. To build a stronger pipeline, our plan is to expand our program to accommodate eight residents starting in 2024.  

Additionally, FHCSD will begin a psychiatry residency program in 2024. California has a critical shortage of psychiatrists and FHCSD’s new residency program will help meet that need.   

Can you talk about some of the challenges our community faces and how you’re working to overcome them?  

Our biggest challenge at the current moment is recovering from the COVID–19 pandemic as it created a stunning increase in demand for healthcare services. During the pandemic, many health services were unavailable or over capacity, causing a delay in care for hundreds, if not thousands across the county. People had trouble accessing essential services, and many adults and children were undiagnosed. We never stopped delivering primary care throughout the acute stages of the pandemic. FHCSD saw about 4,000 patients a day during the pandemic and provided vaccinations to about 220,000 San Diegans! Now that people are more confident about returning to some normal activities, we have seen a significant influx of new people into our clinics who need our help.      

Healthcare workers are exhausted. The current state of the healthcare workforce is why it was vital for FHCSD to be a part of the steering committee for the Behavioral Health Worker Shortage report. More awareness must be created around the behavioral health worker shortage. Policymakers and elected officials must understand the devastating and potentially lasting impact that COVID-19 had on our healthcare system, at large. New funding streams need to be developed to retain healthcare workers, specifically behavioral health workers, and resources created to help them heal from the pandemic’s devastation.   

Any partnership highlights you’d like to share?  

We are partnering with the City and County of San Diego, PATH Ventures and Bold Communities on a multi-phase $60 million project to build a 25,000-square foot integrative behavioral health clinic and five stories of housing—about 180 new units for San Diegans experiencing chronic homelessness. Construction for this phase of the project is set to begin in November of this year and finish in the summer of 2023. There is also a second phase that will create 140 additional affordable apartment homes – 127 studios, 12 one-bedrooms and one manager’s unit which is set to be completed by late 2024. 

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