By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
From its early days as a dentist-office-turned-women’s-clinic by 1970s feminists, Westside Family Health Center has always sought to care for the underrepresented.
“We’re a resource for the community,” Director of Development Celia Bernstein told the Palisadian-Post. “We remove barriers to healthcare.”
In the ’70s that meant creating a woman-centric health model that focused on the needs and agency of female patients.
Today that emphasis on women’s health remains, but as the clinic has expanded to encompass a second building and a broadened set of services, the center’s battle to represent the community has expanded too.
On the week the Post visited the Santa Monica clinic, weary eyes watched the legislative process in the nation’s capital. Federal funding for centers like Westside is a bargaining chip in ongoing budget negotiations.
For Bernstein, a Palisadian of more than 20 years and the clinic’s chief fundraiser for seven, it can be a “nailbiter.” But securing the clinic’s vitality is a “personal calling.”
Westside’s hazy future has only galvanized the efforts of Bernstein and her colleagues to fight for “safety net” centers like theirs—those that assess fees on a sliding, income-based scale and that never turn patients away.
On the heels of the 2016 election, the clinic launched an advocacy wing to organize rallies, e-blasts and other promotional efforts in support of the Affordable Care Act and women’s reproductive rights.
Closer to home, it’s Bernstein’s task to rally roughly $1 million annually to help keep the ship afloat.
At speaking engagements and meetings, she surprises potential benefactors who expect Westside’s services to be more narrowly focused.
She touts their status as a Federally Qualified Health Center, a “primary healthcare home” for patients.
While a female-focused model of care is “in our DNA,” Bernstein tells community members that Westside’s services encompass family practice, prenatal, reproductive and pediatric care for both men and women.
Ninety-four percent of its patients live at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty line.
Roughly half are uninsured.
Patients are motivated to participate as an equal part in their healthcare, Bernstein explained. She tries to emphasize that Westside’s practices keep people out of expensive, crowded emergency rooms by engaging them with preventative care.
And in Pacific Palisades, where the El Medio Bluffs resident is fully aware most people don’t visit a center like Westside for healthcare needs, she emphasized that “there are people in their world who do come to a health clinic.”
Whether it’s a friend, employee or “the person taking your card at the grocery store,” Bernstein argues that it’s in Pacific Palisades’ best interest to keep the greater community healthy.
“We are your neighborhood clinic,” she said. “We have to make sure there is one.”
The message resonates in her hometown, where Palisadian groups and individuals alike have risen to become some of the clinic’s most fervent supporters.
The Woman’s Club awarded a grant to the center in 2016, and are expected to remain a crucial supporter this year.
Westside’s clout in the Palisades is bolstered by the presence of their mobile health clinics on Palisades Charter High School’s campus, which provide discrete, professional reproductive care and counseling for students.
At its home base on Ocean Park Boulevard, the clinic is clean but spartan.
Six exam rooms, a lab, a counseling office, a simple waiting room and crowded administrative offices make the most of a space that Westside has called home for 44 years.
The emphasis is on treatment, not décor.
But there are plans for bigger and better things in the future: a new space, with expanded vision, dental and mental health services.
To get there, Bernstein will continue “trying to awaken the activism in our neighborhood.”
With a cause so close to home and in a time of political upheaval, she believes the time is ripe.
“After the women’s march, give Celia a call,” she quipped.
The number is 310-450-4773, extension 254.
For more information, visit wfhcenter.org.
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