New name, ageless mission- The former South Bay Free Clinic keeps true to its ‘60s mission
Janette Hicks, the Clinic Service Manager at South Bay Family Health Care, will never forget a young 16-year-old girl who walked into the clinic over seven years ago.
“She came in and told me she wanted to become pregnant,” Hicks said. “I was doing her vitals and talking to her, asking her some questions and she was telling me ‘I’m in love with my boyfriend, I think I want to have a child.’” Hicks paused while checking her pulse and asked her how old she was.
“She said she was going to be a senior, and I was like ‘Have you ever considered what your prom’s going to be like, or graduation?’ and she’s like ‘I never thought that far out, I didn’t think of that,’” Hicks said. “I told her that prom is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you don’t get the opportunity to experience that again.”
They continued to talk and a little while later the young women left the clinic. A year later she walked back in. Instead of carrying a baby, she brought her diploma and a picture from prom.
“She told me she wasn’t with that guy anymore and she was glad she didn’t have his baby. That brought tears to my eyes,” Hicks said. “I believe if I didn’t talk with her she probably would have gotten pregnant and probably wouldn’t be with him anymore and would be stuck with a child at 17… there’s lots of stories like that.”
South Bay Family Health Care, a program started in 1969, has expanded beyond their original mission and is now has four locations, and a mobile clinics serving the South Bay.
“Originally our mission was sort of created from the need in the community,” said Brooke McIntyre-Tuley, the Outreach and Volunteer Director. “It was the ‘60s, a lot of people were on the streets and there was a lot of confusion about what they were doing, like drug use and other things. There were also kids who were just tossed out on the streets. A lot of kids gravitated here for different reasons.”
The South Bay community wanted to reach out and help the people they saw on the streets.
“The community members that were really movers-and-shakers had kids,” McIntyre-Tuley said. “When the free clinic came about these people started to support it and thought they could reach these kids — and they would reach back.”
From their humble beginnings on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, they have evolved to meet the present day needs of the community — to help not only teens but also the recent influx of undocumented and uninsured. In 2011 their team of eight physicians, two dentists and 11 mid-level providers served 21,365 patients. 87 percent of those patients were below the federal poverty level, 60 percent didn’t have insurance and 36 percent were non-English speaking.
“Anything you need to get through preventative care we take care of,” said John Merryman, the senior director of marketing and public relations. He added that the clinics go well-beyond health care and help non-English speakers understand basic things like how to pay their bills and turn on their electricity.
In addition to general preventative care and chronic disease management they have expanded to dental care and even have an on-site dispensary and provide lab services and social services like domestic violence prevention.
“We evolved from this little hippie clinic storefront to multiple locations responding to the entire family including seniors,” McIntyre-Tuley said. “…Really our focus is to keep people out of the hospitals and to get them to really make lifestyle changes to improve their health.”
They still hold close to their roots and maintain a close relationship with the local teenagers, offering them confidential services including consultations, birth control options, pregnancy tests and an outreach program that focuses on educating teens before they have a reason to walk into the clinic.
For Hicks who has seen hundreds of local teenagers, educating them and helping them to visualize where they want to be in five or 10 years is the most important part of the job.
“Just that information of visualizing their future is important,” Hicks said. “Because they’re only thinking about that moment, they don’t see outside that box.”
“I think it’s giving teens a safe place to come to. We’re a safe haven and trusted agency. That’s always been part of our history and mission after 40 plus years…” McIntyre-Tuley said. “It’s still the same issues, kids feel compelled we want to help them [be protected]. Times have changed for them, it’s still the same old stuff but it’s so extreme now.”
The Redondo Beach location has a special confidential time for teenagers on Tuesday from 3 – 6 p.m. and Friday from 1 – 3 p.m. Visit sbfhc.org/ for clinic locations or call (310) 802-6170. B