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New health center opening met with applause, protest
Denhams appearance draws local opposition groups
health center protest pic1
Congressman Jeff Denham joins Golden Valley Health Center Chief Executive Officer Tony Weber for the grand opening of the Turlock centers expansion on Wednesday. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

The grand opening of Turlock’s expanded Golden Valley Health Center on West Main Street was a cause for celebration Wednesday, but as community members, legislators and City representatives gathered for the ceremony, protestors also arrived in opposition to Congressman Jeff Denham.

GVHC has operated in Turlock for about eight years, said Chief Executive Officer Tony Weber, but the recent renovations to the center will help provide medical access to the community that was not available before. The expansion brought the total number of medical exam rooms at GVHC from six to 12, and six dental rooms were also added, bringing essential dental services that were not there in the past.

“One of the great things about being a Federally Qualified Health Center is that we see all patients, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Weber. “Every patient that presents themselves at one of our health centers gets seen.”

About 80 percent of GVHC’s patients benefit from Medi-Cal, added Weber. It was for this reason that members of local opposition groups Indivisible Stanislaus, Be the Change Turlock and Our Revolution made their way out to the grand opening ceremony, where Denham was present and served as a speaker.

“We appreciate the Golden Valley Health Center and the services they bring to the community, however, as a group, Indivisible is puzzled on why they would have Jeff Denham come as a speaker because he voted for a bill that takes away funds from places like this,” said Naramsen Goriel of Indivisible Stanislaus. “There’s a huge contradiction and conflict – what we feel like he’s doing is he’s using this as a photo op.”

In May, Denham voted “yes” on the Republican healthcare bill meant to repeal and replace key components of the Affordable Care Act, which contained language to cut the Medicaid program for low-income people and allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It was estimated by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones that the Republican bill would rob 24 million Americans of health care coverage, including many in Denham’s District 10.

Denham did his best to ignore the protestors as he presented Weber with a certificate of recognition, and emphasized to the small crowd the importance of FQHCs.

“We’ve seen the challenges with our emergency rooms overcrowding, and the work that you do here allows those in our community to actually get the care they need,” Denham told Weber. “As we have Med-Cal expansion, we’ve got to make sure that our Federally Qualified Health Centers are here to fill that gap.”

In recent months, Denham has introduced legislation meant to both improve reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients, as well as establish more Teaching Health Center programs throughout the region. According to Goriel, these bills still do not make up for Denham’s vote in May.

“We would appreciate efforts if they’re genunine and sincere, but we think those are red herrings. He’s just trying to create a solution to a problem that may not even be there, when it could be solved by fixing Obamacare’s problems.”

Weber pointed out that such legislation as the bills introduced by Denham are what help GVHC thrive.

“Health centers like Golden Valley Health Center are providing these services you probably can’t get anywhere else because, one, the shortage of providers and two, their inability to take Medi-Cal because of low reimbursement rates.”

The issue of health care in America is still on the table, as the Republicans’ “skinny repeal” for the Affordable Care Act, the Health Care Freedom Act, ultimately failed by a vote of 49-51 after Senator John McCain shocked the country by voting “no.”