History and Accomplishments
The Russian River Health Center first opened its doors to the community of West Sonoma County in 1974 and the neighboring Occidental Area Health Center opened in 1976. Both of these health centers were started by community members and utilized doctors from the National Health Service Corps. After many years of collaboration, the two independent health centers formally merged as West County Health Centers, Inc. (WCHC) in January of 2000.
For over 40 years, the health centers have been recognized as invaluable assets within the community and have continued to serve the growing and diverse needs of the people of West Sonoma County. Our service area covers hundreds of square miles stretching from Fort Ross to Valley Ford and from the Pacific coastline into Sebastopol, with an estimated population of 60,000.
“We are a team. Everyone supports each other!”
— Jennifer Moore, RN Care Manager, Russian River Health Center
Since our inception, we have grown to become one of the finest community-based healthcare organizations in Sonoma County. We provide high quality, comprehensive health services, particularly to the growing number of underserved and marginalized populations in the area. Today our services include medical, dental, and mental health care delivered through our seven sites which include: Sebastopol Community Health Center, Gravenstein Community Health Center, Russian River Health Center, Occidental Area Health Center, Russian River Dental Clinic, Forestville Teen Clinic, and the Forestville Wellness Center.
The West County Health Centers Board of Directors is comprised of 12 dedicated community members with experience in business, law, real estate, human resources, education and healthcare. Nine out of twelve members of the Board use WCHC as their primary medical home and all twelve live within the West County Health Center service area.
West County Health Center was recognized and designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center in 2002, ensuring ongoing federal funding to care for low-income and uninsured patients.
In 2003, we established the first and only Teen Clinic in West Sonoma County based at its own building in Forestville.
In 2008, we opened the Sebastopol Community Health Center as a paperless office, implementing the Electronic Health Record as a pilot program. Since then, Sebastopol Community Health Center has expanded to become our largest primary care site as well as a home for our specialty services such as orthopedics, neurology, and surgery consults. We continue to optimize the functioning of our electronic health records, including expanded implementation of the Patient Portal, a secure electronic connection between patients and providers.
In 2010, we expanded our HIV/AIDS program which began in 1982 at the Russian River Health Center when Dr. Marshall Kubota diagnosed the first case of AIDS in Sonoma County. Since then our HIV program has become a model and a leader in the integration of HIV care in a primary care setting. We offer free HIV testing services at all sites, and conducted a very successful anti-stigma campaign to promote HIV testing. Our Russian River Dental Clinic also supports care for our HIV positive population.
In 2011, West County Health Centers opened the Forestville Wellness Center. This unique site continues to expand to offer a wide variety of health and wellness services that would not typically be accessible to low income or government insured patients. Integrative medicine, herbal consultations, and acupuncture, as well as group medical visits including movement, nutrition, smoking cessation, pre-natal, and a drug abuse alternatives series are offered at Forestville Wellness Center to educate, support and empower our patients to create behavioral changes in their lives to improve their health and well being.
In 2014, we completed a solar installation project at our two sites in Guerneville, the Russian River Health Center and the Russian River Dental Clinic. The solar systems have greatly reduced our energy bills allowing us to direct more resources to patient care. This project was funded through a $450,000 Federal HRSA facilities improvement grant.
Since 2013, West County Health Centers has assisted thousands of patients and community members with obtaining healthcare coverage available through the Affordable Care Act. More than 3,000 of our existing patients received coverage through the expanded Medi-Cal program and Covered California insurance plans. Our county has one of the highest enrollment levels in the State including many young people and adults who have been without a source of coverage for decades.
In September 2014 we opened a second primary care site in Sebastopol, the Gravenstein Community Health Center, which has capacity to provide services for 3,600 local residents, in addition to the 12,500 patients being served at our other sites.
In October 2015, we received Federal funding to develop a Healthcare for the Homeless program for the lower Russian River area. The program includes comprehensive medical, dental, behavioral health and substance use treatment as well as outreach and other services for this vulnerable population. A stand-alone clinic will eventually be co-located with the County’s Homeless Services Center.
In November 2015, the West County Health Centers Innovation Hub opened adjacent to the Gravenstein Community Health Center in Sebastopol. The Innovation Hub is a dedicated space to work on new and innovative ways of delivering care for our patients and improving health in our communities by focusing on ways to improve patient care through creative solutions to work flows and technology implementation. The WCHC Innovation team works with new companies and health tech startups who are interested in doing business with Safety Net Providers and developing technology solutions geared toward health information, literacy, and resource challenges.
In December 2016, a tragic fire destroyed the original Russian River Health Center building. Services have continued in temporary locations and we plan to build a new, state-of-the-art facility in downtown Guerneville by the end of 2022.
WCHC recognized with Distinction for Behavioral Health Integration by National Committee for Quality Assurance in 2021.
WCHC became a California Health+ Center, a statewide initiative sponsored by California Primary Care Association to promote community health centers.
WCHC received recognition as a Patient-Centered Medical Home from the National Committee on Quality Assurance, a national model of health care that demonstrates improved care for our patients.
WCHC was selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a model primary care practice through the “Learning from Exemplary Ambulatory Practice Initiative”, one of 50 practices selected nationwide.
WCHC Executive Director, Mary Szecsey, was elected as the Chairperson of the California Primary Care Association in 2013.
Occidental Area and Russian River Health Centers were incorporated in 1976 and 1974 by local citizens. In January 2000 a merger took place to create West County Health Centers. We are a private, non-profit, Federally-Qualified Health Center governed by a twelve member volunteer Board of Directors.
- 1973: Russian River Health Center founded
- 1975: Occidental Area Health Center founded by local community groups
- 1989: Licensed as Rural Health Clinics
- 1996: Approved as Federally Qualified Health Center
- 2000: Merged to form West County Health Centers
- 2000: Teen Clinic Established
- 2004: Forestville Teen Clinic opened as stand-alone site
- 2008: Sebastopol Community Health Center opened
- 2008: Electronic Health Records implemented throughout agency
- 2009: Sebastopol Community Health Center expansion begun
- 2010: Expanded HIV/AIDS Services Program
- 2011: Forestville Wellness Center opened
- 2013: Affordable Care Act Implementation – Covered California Enrollment
- 2014: Gravenstein Community Health Center opened
- 2015: Healthcare for the Homeless Program receives Federal funding
- 2015: Innovation Hub opened in Sebastopol
- 2016: Russian River Health Center destroyed by fire
- 2021: Guerneville School Wellness Center opened