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"We're stretched to the limit," said Jane Garcia, the clinic's CEO.
The new patients are just as eager for a new approach to health care.
Wendi Niehuis, an information security analyst from Walnut Creek, lost her job with Washington Mutual in February. Eight months later, she has cashed in her retirement plan, but feels she is one serious illness away from financial ruin.
"I didn't think I'd ever be without health insurance," she said. "Now I don't know if I'll ever have it again."
Such patients are walking into centers in record numbers, said Dan Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Association of Community Health Centers.
"Many of them had a good job, had insurance, were pretty solidly in the middle class, and the bottom just fell out," Hawkins said.
A one-time injection of $2 billion in stimulus money is helping cover the rise in demand. But much of that money was intended for capital expenditures such as building new clinics, not new patients.
In Richmond, Calif., stimulus funding is helping Brookside Community Health Center add a second level, double the number of dental exam rooms, expand the children's clinic and add to the prenatal wing.
But the center is seeing an average of 358 new patient visits a month right now.
"We're maxed-out on space," said Sheryl Johnson, executive director at Brookside.
Other clinics were hit so hard by state cuts they had to lay off staff or close their doors entirely.
At least 27 states slashed funding for health programs, with California leading the way. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated in July a $35 million pool of money designed to support centers serving rural areas, migrant agricultural workers and Native Americans.
In the rural community of Potter Valley, about 110 miles north of San Francisco, the clinic that had served the region for 30 years was forced to close.
"A lot of rural community centers are facing the same fate," said Cathy Frey, executive director of the Alliance for Rural Community Health. "People don't have anywhere to go."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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