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The organization also welcomes permanent CEO Trula Breuninger as it continues to work toward improved fiscal health

12-3-2013 12-45-21 PMChief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Fenzi, left, Chief Dental Officer Dr. Quynh Nguyen and board president Mark Palmer speak Thursday on behalf of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, explaining that the facilities saw more patients in October than ever before. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli | Published on 11.21.2013 10:12 p.m.

The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics will be opening a new clinic in Old Town Goleta with federal Health Resources and Services Administration funding, board president Mark Palmer announced Thursday.

Its interim CEO, Trula Breuninger, who comes with a wealth of experience, has been named the permanent CEO for the organization.

Just six months ago, SBNC announced it may have to close its doors and asked for community support.

The Cottage Health System funded a consultant to develop a turnaround plan and a coalition of donors put in $600,000 between July and October as certain milestones were met. The clinics serve 17,000 patients a year on the SouthCoast.

SBNC has been cutting costs by moving out of the 1900 State St. offices, outsourcing and consolidating staff from 103 to 94 positions, and finding operational efficiencies, Palmer said.

The monthly deficit of $250,000 has gone down to $100,000, the lowest it has been in five years, he said. SBNC officials are aiming for about $75,000 per month, which is why they are asking for long-term community support.

It’s impossible for the clinics to break even or profit since federally-qualified health centers have to take every patient regardless of ability to pay, he said.

The clinics had the highest number of patient visits ever in October, with 5,187 patients and more than 1,500 dental visits. Of the medical visits, 33 percent were not reimbursable and had little or no revenue to the clinics.

The clinics are expecting more dental patients in the future, since adult dental benefits are coming back for Medi-Cal patients next May, said Dr. Quynh Nguyen, chief dental officer for the clinics. Only one or two private practice dentists on the SouthCoast accept Medi-Cal patients, she noted.

Clinics are actually looking forward to the Affordable Care Act, since they expect more patients to get covered by Medi-Cal. That way, more patients will provide reimbursements to the clinics. SBNC is trying to increase its reimbursement rate as well.

The new Goleta clinic comes with federal funding of $812,500 and annual funding of $650,000 starting next year, Breuninger said.

“It validates we are a clinic that’s here to stay,” she said.

Officials are currently looking for space — at least 11,000 square feet — in the OldTown area and will start with a small staff. The clinic has the potential to reach 37,000 unserved patients in that area, she said.

The $650,000 a year is for operational costs and it won’t be enough to sustain the new clinic, so SBNC will continue relying on community support, she said.

There was talk of merging with the American Indian Health Services clinic on Upper State Street, but the clinics ultimately decided it was better to stay separate, Palmer said. Breuninger is affiliated with the Navajo tribe and has experience with American Indian health centers across the Southwest, including as CEO for the San Diego American Indian Health Center and most recently the Southern Indian Health Council Inc.

Dr. Charles Fenzi, chief medical officer, said the clinics want to expand hours for better access and be open in the evenings. The three clinics on the Westside, Eastside and in Isla Vista are already open on Saturdays, as is the dental clinic on Santa Barbara’s Eastside.

Fenzi and Nguyen credited all the doctors and other providers for sticking with the clinics over the last six months, saying they didn’t lose any clinicians.

“No one headed for the door — everyone just rolled up their sleeves and went to work,” Palmer added.

SBNC is still waiting on a decision from the state Department of Finance on the Isla Vista Clinic building. It’s a former Redevelopment Agency property so the state has discretion whether to make the county sell it or be allowed to keep it.

The county Board of Supervisors is fighting to keep it, since it’s the only public-health clinic in that community of 22,000 people.

— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at[email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk,@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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