By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Hilda Ávila (no relation to Random Lengths News Assistant Editor Zamná Ávila) arrived in the United States on vacation and fell in love. The object of her affection was an inconspicuous community in the heart of the Harbor Area: Wilmington.
“I saw how the community does acts of goodness and I’ve seen change,” said Ávila in Spanish, referring to the grassroots community activism in the Los Angeles neighborhood.
She found one such act of goodness when she was searching for a doctor to get a regular physical examination at the Wilmington Community Clinic.
“I [now] have 15 years with the clinic [as a patient] and I haven’t changed [providers] for a reason,” Ávila said. “They make you feel as if you are family.”
The clinic’s family has grown to serve several families throughout the years. This year marks Wilmington Community Clinic’s 40th anniversary.
“It’s really a treasure in the community,” said Dr. Marco García, who practices family medicine at the clinic. “Some patients have been served for several generations…. We are really dedicated to Wilmington.”
Dr. Xylina Bean and Rosa Montano founded the clinic on April 17, 1977, responding to maternal and pediatric health care needs in the community. The clinic first opened as a free clinic that helped about 3,500 patients per year. Since then, it has helped combat teen pregnancy, expanded pediatric programs through grant funding, offered educational parenting classes and provided lactation education. These days, the clinic also provides cancer and diabetes screenings.
“What attracted me [to this job] is that it is an authentic community clinic and that it specifically aims to serve the underserved population — people without insurance or [who] can’t afford [to pay for a regular office visit somewhere else],” said García, who has been working at the clinic for three years. “The mission has remained the same for all those years that it has provided service to the community.”
In 2016, the clinic provided services to 22,939 low-income and uninsured women, children and men.
What Ávila appreciates the most is accessibility. Not only is the clinic open late and on Saturdays, but also the staff is very helpful, she said. Many of the patients are monolingual; they only speak Spanish.
“The majority of the doctors are accessible and also, the work of the nurses can’t be minimized,” Ávila said. “If the doctor speaks only English, the nurses help with translating…. They not only have supported me with my medical issues, they’ve also given moral support.”
It is with that understanding that García, whose family immigrated from Mexico when he was three years old, goes out of his way to treat each person with dignity and respect, “especially those below the poverty line.”
In 2015, the clinic incorporated dental services with two part-time dentists and one part-time hygienist. Within the first seven months, 485 patients used the new services. The clinic is expanding those services to include four more dental chairs. This year, the clinic also is providing mental health services that include psychological counseling and coping-mechanism therapy.
In 2012, the clinic became a federally qualified health center, which allowed it to expand services and qualify for some reimbursements. With the Donald Trump administration cutting services, there is general concern about the future of funding.
“The question is whether we will have enough funding to maintain the doors open,” García said.
But clinic officials believe the type of services the clinic provides will remain the same.
“Providing integrated services is going to increase prospects for health for our patients,” Chief Financial Officer Jay Boyer said. “What is really important is that we diversify our streams of revenue.”
One way to diversify is through grants and fundraising. This year, the clinic will celebrate its 40th milestone by hosting a fundraiser at Ports O’ Call Restaurant in San Pedro. The event, which includes a three-course meal for $75, will host about 200 people. It will include a silent auction and a raffle. Prizes include tickets to Disneyland, Universal Studios, a Dodgers game, an Angels game and to the Aquarium of the Pacific. There will be dinner vouchers as well.
“The same people [who are part of the community] respond [to their call of duty] because they don’t want to be left without a clinic,” Ávila said. “It is the seal of Wilmington.”