Supports ‘continued access to primary care;’ will add new equipment

POINT REYES STATION – Marin Healthcare District has taken over West Marin Medical Center operations to keep the 42-year-old clinic’s doors open and preserve primary care services for about 5,000 residents in West Marin.

“There’s a national shortage in primary health care that is projected to get worse, and we are very concerned about that,” said Jonathan Friedenberg, chief fund and business development officer for MHD. “This was an opportunity for us to take this action and support the continued access to primary care in West Marin, which we think is very important.”

Growing financial pressures in recent years have threatened the clinic’s existence. In late 2007, the clinic lost one of its two physicians and nearly closed, but community members came forward to keep it afloat. MHD also stepped in at that time with financial support for two more physicians.

Unlike federally qualified health centers, West Marin Medical Center is a so-called 1206B clinic that is not eligible for any federal or state funding. This is a provision of California law designed to support primary care for entire communities, insured and uninsured alike.

“The economics of primary care – particularly in a place like West Marin – make it extraordinarily difficult for private practice physicians to survive financially,” said Dr. Joel Sklar, chief medical officer of Marin General Hospital.  “By taking this action, MHD is enabling West Marin residents to continue to have the care they need without having to go elsewhere.”

MHD’s takeover of West Marin Medical Center is at the financial and operational level. The same primary care physicians – Michael Whitt, Eileen Gleber and Colin Hamblin – will continue to provide health care at the clinic.

“By handling the rent, billing, collections, insurance contracts – all the operational and management tasks – we can free up the physicians to focus more on medical care and less on administration,” Mr. Friedenberg said. “We’re not telling them how to practice medicine.”

Typical primary care clinic costs beyond revenues from payers range from $50,000 to $100,000 per physician annually, according to Mr. Friedenberg. As an enterprise health care district, MHD has the resources to help cover those costs, he said.

In addition to supporting physicians, MHD is also making improvements to the West Marin Medical Center facility and adding new imaging equipment.