A Day in the Park

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, CA, July 19th, 2013 -- Healthcare costs have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. This week’s SURF-IT lunchtime seminar focused on a novel approach to delivering healthcare services to those in need: a free clinic in the Orange County Great Park. 

Kristin Alix, a UC Irvine biology alumna who also has a master’s degree in public health, is the clinic coordinator (and a teaching assistant in the UCI School of Public Health). Along with Drs. Shahram Lotfipour and Phyllis Agran, she is supervising the work of SURF-IT Fellow Payum Noshiravan, who is working on needs assessments and developing a data tracking and evaluation system to determine the project’s return on investment.

The Clinic in the Park is a collaborative of more than 30 organizations and individuals. It is open the second Sunday of each month at the Orange County Great Park Farmers Market and offers a multitude of healthcare services to the county’s underserved community. 

The clinic provides safety-net health screenings, immunizations, dental services and access to health insurance, community-based resources and social services. The collaborative also offers assistance with healthcare maintenance, including nutrition services and asthma screening; as well as injury-prevention efforts that include SIDS education, free toddler booster car seats and bicycle helmets to those who can’t afford them. All services are free.

“We want to connect people to medical resources and make the park a venue for health,” said Alix. “Families can make it an outing – enjoy the park as well as [get] the services.”

Families visiting the clinic receive “passports,” on which they record their zip codes, family members’ ages, which stations they stopped by and what services they received. At the end of the visit, passports can be turned in for incentives like fresh produce, allowing team members to track the clinic’s activity.

Qualitative surveys given to visitors have reflected the need for the services offered as well as a need for transportation assistance. To that end, the project recently awarded funds to an elementary school in a low-income area that allowed families to be bused to the clinic. “So far, they’ve come three months in a row,” Alix told the group.

The number of visitors to the clinic, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, has far surpassed expectation. Alix said the goal was 2,000 visitors in the first year; more than 5,000 attended between June 2012 and April 2013, and were provided with more than 12,000 services. Those services included dental exams and fluoride treatment, hearing and speech assessments, body mass index measurements, and individual and group health chats.

Benefit/cost ratios confirm the clinic’s worth. A $35 car booster seat can save $2,600 in medical costs, work loss and quality of life, according to Alix. A $13 bike helmet can save $82-$610 in injury-related medical costs.

Future plans for the project, Alix said, include creating a digital interface to replace the patient passports and refining an electronic database for maintaining patient information and follow-up data. 

Researchers also plan to track willing families to assess their progress. “We want to follow up on them a few months after their first visit to the clinic,” said Alix. “We want to determine how the services they got helped them change their behaviors, based on the knowledge they received as well as the improved access to medical and dental care.

“We want to keep track of how our clinic is impacting our community.”