OLE Health "Live Life Well"

OLE Health started as a humble clinic for farmworkers, but now they’re offering quality team-based care to all of Napa’s vulnerable residents.

Jennifer Leach didn’t expect much from the doctors.

It was 2007, and she had been living in a Napa homeless shelter for a few months.

She knew what kind of health care to expect for people like her, people struggling with poverty and homelessness: treatment in a sad, shabby clinic. Spotty, inconsistent medical care.

Taking three busses across town to see the one specialist she needed, only to discover that they’re closed on Fridays.

But when she met the doctors from nearby OLE Health, she experienced something different.

Kind doctors immediately got her treatment for her bad back at their clean, modern facility.

They accepted her Medi-Cal. When her primary care provider found out about her bipolar disorder and adult ADHD, Leach was offered a range of treatments, including psychiatric help, counseling sessions and cognitive behavioral therapy.

“I wasn’t used to being treated with dignity and respect,” Leach said. “When I started receiving care--and I mean care, not treatment--at OLE Health, it was a 180 [degree] difference. My experiences were valued and not dismissed. I was seen and treated as a human being.”

What makes the scenario even more remarkable is the location.

When people imagine Napa Valley in Northern California, they usually picture a wealthy, bucolic paradise, filled with the region’s sprawling vineyards.

But for the people who help make that image a reality--Napa’s thousands of farmworkers and working poor--life isn’t easy.

It’s only recently that people like Leach have been able to access quality care; for years, health care for low-income individuals in the area was essentially non-existent.

That changed in 1972 when Napa farmworkers from Organizacion Latino Americana de Liberacion Economica (OLLE) started a clinic for uninsured Latino farmworkers and their families.

It wasn’t always easy, and for years, they bounced around from location to location. During one year, they were even located in a Mexican grocery store. After nearly a decade of uncertainty, they finally settled in a permanent location in 1983.

Shortened their name to OLE Health, and expanded their scope to all the poor and uninsured communities in Napa, not just farmworkers.

Since then, OLE Health has been a lifeline for people like Leach. It’s Napa County’s only federally qualified health center, the sole option for Napa’s uninsured working poor.

Before OLE, uninsured patients had to drive to another county to find a clinic that would treat them. Now, OLE is a place that honors its origins as a resource for Napa Valley farmworkers, while working as hard as they can to expand their reach by serving as many people as possible.

A Whole Body Approach to Health

It’s not just their patients that makes OLE unique--it’s also their forward-thinking, innovative approach to health and wellness.

Third Friday farmers market veggie and fruit giveaway.

About a decade ago, OLE adopted an integrated model of care that emphasizes behavioral health.

When a patient comes in for an appointment with their primary care provider, the doctor connects them with OLE’s other in-house resources, from dentistry to counseling to acupuncture.

Warm Hand Off

The result is a team of providers working collaboratively on all components of a patient’s health, from chronic health issues to dentistry, and it leads to strong patient-provider relationships.

One recent patient constantly went to the ER, until a nurse took his cell phone, programmed her own number in it, and told the patient to call her whenever he needed help, day or night. It’s been six months, and the patient hasn’t returned to the emergency room.

For many families, OLE is the only option. As a federally qualified health center their mandate–and mission--is to accept everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

70% of OLE patients live below the poverty line, and most pay with Medi-Cal or on a sliding scale.

One in four Napa County children rely on OLE for treatment, as do almost 20% of Napa adults.

The majority of staff is bilingual, catering to the Hispanic patients who make up more than 60% of their patient population.

And demand continues to grow.

On average, OLE gets 300 new patients a month. They work with the community to expand their scope, going into homeless shelters and vineyard fields to reach patients where they live.

South Napa Homeless Shelter

Walsh/OLE Health Fair

In neighboring Solano County, people started to notice OLE’s success. Partnership HealthPlan of California, a program that offers services for the area’s Medi-Cal patients, was desperate for a facility in Fairfield, CA, about a half hour from Napa. They needed a place they could trust to send their Medi-Cal patients. They reached out to OLE: could they open a new clinic in Fairfield?

It was a huge undertaking for OLE. They already had their own clinics to worry about--ones struggling to treat the influx of new patients. They didn’t have the decades of patient trust they had slowly built in Napa. They didn’t know if it would even work logistically: how could they build a new clinic with the same level of quality integrated care? For a year, they strategized how to duplicate their successful model at a brand new facility.

And the challenges didn’t stop there. Many lenders consider health care facilities for underserved communities a risky investment. That’s why OLE turned to Capital Impact. As a mission-driven lender, Capital Impact’s focus is driving social impact and increasing access to critical services like health care.

Indeed, Capital Impact has a long history of aiding federally qualified health centers with their life-saving work: they’ve financed over half of FQHCs in California.

In the fall of 2016, Capital Impact played a vital role in supporting OLE’s new Fairfield location with a $1 million in financing from Capital Impact’s CPCA Ventures loan program geared toward supporting California health centers and clinics. With this loan, Ole transformed an outdated clinic in the area into a modern day facility with seven exam rooms, four dental stations, a lab, and two consultation rooms outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment.

Part of Ole’s success comes from the fact that much of OLE’s staff grew up in Napa and were OLE patients, so they have a connection to the people they’re serving.

Patients aren’t just numbers: they could be a cousin or neighbor. The staff’s empathy for their patients means they recognize that quality of life doesn’t just revolve around medical care, and that low income communities have unique struggles that can affect their health.

OLE’s staff will find someone a bed at an emergency shelter, give them a box of free vegetables from a local food bank, or encourage them to join their free immigration aid group.

South Napa Homeless Shelter

And as they grow, they’re committed to maintaining their patient focused approach, talking to patients in person, using social media and organizing focus groups to identify their patients’ needs.

That homegrown care is bolstered by the fact that FQHC’s like OLE have patient advisory boards, where patients meet with staff once a month to help doctors and staff shape decisions about care. Jennifer Leach joined the OLE committee earlier this year.

She’s not homeless anymore, but still receives treatment at OLE.

“The life changing thing has been when I realized that I had value, something to contribute. I didn’t feel powerless anymore, I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Leach said. “Being treated like that at OLE Health, and being given the opportunities to give back is what has been the most help in my life. It’s so much more than medical support.”

Jenifer Leach at monthly patient advisory board meeting.


Written By Shelby Pope Photography By David Waldorf

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