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Safety net for the sick – New Ridge clinic helps underinsured patients

Twenty-one years ago, the Sierra Family Medical Clinic was the private practice of Dr. Peter Van Houten on the San Juan Ridge.

Today, it is a one-stop medical clinic with dental and behavioral health services designed for those who are on Medi-Cal, are without insurance or are underinsured.

“We’re basically the safety net for people who can’t get treatment from regular doctors and dentists who don’t take Medi-Cal,” clinic administrator Richard Mantle said.



“We have a sliding scale for people to pay, and we treat everybody the same,” Van Houten said.

“The whole person is treated,” Mantle said.




If someone comes in with the flu and also exhibits signs of depression, “We can get them a behavioral therapist down the hall,” Van Houten said. “And the same thing with dental. We saw someone this morning who had dental phobia and another who had high blood pressure.”

The clinic also has a telepsychiatry hookup with the University of California at Davis. Therapist Jennifer Sale can sit with a client and be connected to a psychiatrist via television.

“Our whole goal has been access for people,” Van Houten said. “We never want to turn anyone away and we give affordable care to those of modest means.”

In a survey of Ridge residents three years ago, the clinic found a profound need for dentistry, Mantle said. With grant money, a new dental office wing was built with two chairs for two dentists.

Those dentists are David and Minah DeAinza, a husband and wife team who were looking for an alternative.

“My experience was in the Navy and I didn’t want to open a business,” Minah said. “I convinced my husband to get into this,” and leave his Southern California practice.

“We came up and fell in love with it,” Minah said. “We were excited because it was brand new. It’s great not worrying about how patients are going to pay for treatment.”

In their new practice, the DeAinzas work with Sale to get clients doing prevention and follow-up dentistry. “Usually, it’s drill, fill and go home,” Minah said.

“We’re in a unique situation where we can integrate the whole body care,” David DeAinza said. “When there’s medical complications, the clinic is right next door….It’s been fun and we’ve been surprised by the great amount of need.”

How much need?

“Were booked into December,” Mantle said of the new dental clinic.

He estimates the dental business now accounts for one-third of the clinic, which is a $1 million a year operation.

The clinic is ushering in a new medical paradigm that believes tooth decay is caused by infections within a family. Van Houten said rinses and gum are used to fight acidic secretions that attack tooth enamel.

“We’re getting three-month-olds in to see the dentist to get it stopped early,” Van Houten said.

“We also look for it in moms to catch it before the baby is born to make sure she isn’t going to pass it on,” Mantle said.

“Our hope is to eliminate dental cavities by the year 2010,” Van Houten said.

It’s all part of the overall approach.

“The more we can do on one day for the same person is the best thing we can do,” he said.

How to reach Sierra Family Medical Clinic

– Location, 15301 Tyler Foote Road on the San Juan Ridge.

– Phone: 292-3478

– Web site: http://www.sierraclinic.org

– E-mail: info@sierraclinic.org


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