For a town reportedly founded by a physician — Dr. William Knight in 1843 — Knights Landing has been particularly lacking in health care services of late.
Since 2008, in fact, when Knights Landing’s Communicare clinic closed, residents have had to travel 12 miles to Woodland for health care. And with so many migrant workers among the town’s population of about 1,000, transportation — as well as a lack of health insurance — has been an issue for many, particularly the elderly and mothers with young children.
The loss of the health clinic was just one of a number of blows Knights Landing has suffered in recent years. The town, which sits on the northeastern edge of Yolo County alongside the Sacramento River, also saw both its elementary school and park close.
In response, a number of the town’s women joined forces, forming Grupo de Mujeres and meeting weekly in the small Knights Landing Family Resource Center located on the edge of the Grafton Elementary School lot.
Here the women would knit and talk and brainstorm about what their town needed, and how to make it happen.
Turned out they weren’t alone.
The plight of rural towns like Knights Landing, especially when it comes to health care, is well documented. According to the UC Davis School of Medicine, 20 percent of Californians live in rural areas but just 9 percent of California physicians practice there. The school reports that rural patients have higher levels of chronic conditions, higher rates of hospitalizations and higher rates of cancer deaths.
In order to improve the lot of rural Californians, the school developed the Rural-PRIME program, aimed at preparing physicians specifically for practicing in rural areas. Students don’t just master medicine, they focus on public health, community service and telemedicine as well.
The medical school is also home to Clinica Tepati, which since 1974 has served the uninsured populations in and around Sacramento in student-run clinics operating on weekends. Overseen by volunteer physicians, the clinics offer primary care to thousands of people who would otherwise go without.
So perhaps it was inevitable that Grupo de Mujeres, Rural-PRIME and Clinica Tepati would end up joining forces to serve the people of Knights Landing. And indeed they have.
On Sunday, it was Knights Landing resident and Grupo de Mujeres member Odila Cervantes who wielded the oversize scissors at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand-new Knights Landing clinic.
With a team of 21 UCD undergraduates, a handful of medical students and supervising volunteer physicians, the clinic will provide primary care at no cost to residents on the third Sunday of each month. They hope to expand to two or three days a month in the future, provided they can find the funding and volunteers.
In the meantime, residents will celebrate what they’ve accomplished so far.
“We feel so good about this,” Cervantes said as she sat with her fellow Grupo de Mujeres members.
As they should.
“These women have been integral in this,” said clinic co-director Philip Buss, a first-year medical student.
Buss, co-director Alexa Calfee and others have been meeting with the women for months, figuring out what they wanted and what the town needs.
“Their story was of a town that was steadily losing resources,” noted Denise Gutierrez, past co-director of Clinica Tepati. “No health care, child care … it was a cry for help.”
Of particular interest to the women was primary care, including family planning, well-baby check-ups and the like. Then there are the specific health issues prevalent in the community, diabetes being chief among them, Gutierrez said.
“There are some people who haven’t been on medications for their diabetes for months,” she noted.
Clinic staffers also have been preparing themselves for the other medical conditions they are likely to see a lot of, particularly those common to migrant workers: the effects of pesticide exposure and back pain related to spending so much time bent over in the fields.
The clinic will be limited in some regards: medical staff will be able to write prescriptions but there are no funds available to fill them; patients will have to be referred elsewhere for certain needs that arise, such as biopsies; and though staff will be able to draw blood and take other samples, the laboratory services will be provided by the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
Clinic staffers hope to add specialty clinic days in the future, bringing in podiatrists, mental health professionals and others to address specific needs of residents.
In the meantime, from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month, the clinic on Mill Street will serve between 15 and 20 people in its four exam rooms.
The undergrad volunteers will be on the front lines, taking vitals in the clinic and spreading the word in the community.
“It’s really important to let the community know that there are resources here that can help them,” said third-year pre-nursing student Melissa Moreno.
Like Moreno, all of the undergrads are planning careers in the health care field, whether nursing, medicine or public health. In addition to their work in the clinic itself, the students will also be focused on raising funds to expand clinic services.
In addition to monetary donations, the clinic can use donations of medical supplies as well as more volunteer physicians. To make donations, contact students at [email protected]
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or (530) 747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.