Health & Fitness

She was a provider at Merced County clinic that closed. This is how she's still helping

Before the eight Horisons Unlimited Health Care clinics shuttered last year, a nurse practitioner spent 10 months advocating for better services for her patients. After realizing she would get no support, she decided to stay in Merced County to help address the problem and opened up her own practice.

“I really enjoyed working with my patients,” Marla Elkins told the Sun-Star in an interview. “The only way to continue is to open up my own practice. Our main focus is to serve people in underserved areas.”

When the eight Horisons clinics shut down last year, following a bankruptcy filing and federal investigations, thousands of patients suddenly had nowhere to go in a county that already doesn’t have enough doctors. Local clinics immediately felt the impact, making it that much harder for their patients to find an appointment.

Elkins recently opened the Livingston clinic, Dawn Medical Group, and the expansion of Castle Family Health Center’s clinic in Winton could help people still struggling to find a consistent provider.

Dawn Medical Group, located at 1472 B St., is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and offers primary care, urgent care and pain management services. Elkins opened her doors about a month ago, she said, and has a team of medical assistants and nurses, some that speak Spanish.

“Because of my experience at Horisons, that’s why I will be the only provider and the one making decisions,” Elkins said. Many things at Horisons didn’t meet health industry standards and “it got to a ridiculous point.”

Elkins said she is striving to be an educator in preventative care for the community and a primary care home for her patients, something so many people in the county lack.

There is about 45 doctors for every 100,000 residents in Merced County, which is significantly lower than the state and national average, according to data from the Merced County Department of Public Health.

The expansion of Castle’s Winton clinic, which is more than tripling in size, could also bring relief to patients and overcrowded clinics. Their current Winton clinic located at 6590 N Winton Way will be moving to a 13,400 square foot lot on 6029 N Winton Way.

As long as everything goes as scheduled, the new site is set to be open next March, said Edward Lujano, Castles CEO.

“We’ve come to a point where we’ve grown out of the facility,” he said. “The need was there in Winton.”

The $9 million project will add a pharmacy, dental and behavioral health services that aren’t offered at the current Winton location, Lujano said. They will have 18 exam rooms, six providers, a pediatrician, two dentists, two licensed clinical social workers, a pharmacist and room for 30 additional staff members.

With the expansion in Winton, 6,000 more people will be able to make this clinic their primary care home, said Peter Mojarras, Castles COO.

“It will have an immediate impact and change in the community,” Mojarras said.

In the coming months, Castle is also adding another 19 exam rooms to their main clinic site at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, 3605 Hospital Road, Mojarras added.

Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star