GVHC celebrates 50 years of serving local community
Today, the main campus of Golden Valley Health Centers on Childs Avenue and N Street is a fixture in South Merced. But it’s taken a long time to get there. Half a century in fact.
The healthcare non-profit has officially been serving the Valley for 50 years, an occasion which they celebrated recently with the first gala held since the outbreak of COVID.
“It’s an incredible milestone,” said Tony Weber, CEO of GVHC since 2014. “It’s grown from this startup community health center to what we are today. It’s a real tribute to those who had the vision 50 years ago.”
GVHC has come a long way since its inception in 1972. It started out as a humble clinic attached to Merced General Hospital, where it served the health needs of migrant farmworkers in the valley. Founder Mike Sullivan set out with the goal of providing primary health care to anyone, regardless of financial or cultural barriers. Then called Migrant Health Services, it worked with a small budget of only $200,000, a part time doctor and a staff of six people.
But growth came quickly. A year later, they broke ground on the Childs Avenue campus, changed their name to Merced Family Health Centers and received their non-profit status from the state of California. It was clear early on that the demand for their services was greater than what they could provide with one clinic, so they expanded to Stanislaus County, opening up clinics in Patterson, West Modesto and Empire by 1977. By the end of the 90s, 41 staffers were treating 42,000 patients a year in clinics in Planada, Le Grand, Dos Palos, Los Banos, Newman and Turlock. Their name was changed to Golden Valley Health Centers and that’s what they’ve been ever since.
GVHC was one of the first health centers to be set up in California. Now, there are over 1,000 of them across the country, serving 33 million patients a year. They play a vital role in serving those who don’t otherwise have access to healthcare.
“We have a mission to not turn away anybody regardless of their ability to pay,” said Weber.
The gala was also an opportunity to recognize one of their own. 93-year-old Alicia Dicochea, a board member since GVHC’s founding, was presented with a lifetime achievement award.
“Healthcare is always evolving, but the primary needs of the community have stayed about the same over the years,” said Weber. “To some extent things haven’t changed a lot with respect to the tremendous demand there is for services. There are still a lot of underserved patients in the valley. It’s been a challenge since Day one. As hard as we in healthcare have worked, we still haven’t solved that problem.”
But growth has been steady and consistent over the last six or seven years, according to Weber, and GVHC’s latest project has been geared toward seniors.
The PACE program serves people over age 55 who meet state eligibility for nursing facility level of care. It’s kind of like a one-stop-shop for older people to fulfill their primary medical care needs as well as enjoy a sense of community at GVHC’s special Day Centers, which offer activities, hot meals and other services.
Currently the program is only available in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, but Weber said that PACE is expected to be operational in Merced in the beginning of 2024.