News - May 18, 2011

Women's clinic to close doors this fall

by Dave Boyce

For decades, Ladera has been home to a women's medical clinic on Alpine Road just east of the Ladera Community Church. But come the fall, when the lease expires, the Portola Valley Women's Health Center at 3250 Alpine Road will shut its doors for good.

The staff of one nurse practitioner and seven physicians — five specialists in ob-gyn and two in fertility — will shift their practices to Redwood City, Palo Alto and Los Altos to clinics that are also run by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, foundation spokeswoman Cynthia Greaves told the Almanac.

The foundation's executive board decided to close the clinic when confronted with a lease renewal price of $1 million a year, Ms. Greaves said. The figure was "fairly prohibitively expensive," she said.

The building's owner, San Mateo-based Dewey Land Company, would not consider a short-term lease, she said. "It was all in or all out."

"I'm not going to comment on any specifics on the lease," said Ryan Guibara, Dewey's director of real estate, when asked to confirm the $1 million figure.

The Ladera clinic handled more than 16,000 patient visits in 2009 and again in 2010, Ms. Greaves said.

"Health care reform is driving a lot of very difficult decisions," she added. "A big one is becoming more cost-effective and affordable. We have to make tough decisions and this is certainly one of them."

The consolidation reflects the foundation's ongoing preparation for new health-care mandates in 2014, when Bay Area medical service providers will have to open their doors to "hundreds of thousands" of people currently without medical insurance, she said.

"When they get it, they will need doctors and we want to be their doctors," Ms. Greaves said. "Our mandate is to take care of people."

"We have to be more affordable," she added. "Our organization has been focused on excellence. Now we have to focus on excellence and being affordable to more patients."

Asked if that meant a two-tiered system based on ability to pay, Ms. Greaves said it did not. "We are just looking at becoming more efficient so we can reduce prices, so we can be more affordable to more people."

16,000 babies

The Ladera clinic provides routine health and obstetric care, specialty consultation for gynecologic disorders and high-risk obstetrics, and consultations for fertility concerns, said Dr. Jim McCarrick, the clinic's director, in an e-mail.

"By my calculation, we have delivered more than 16,000 babies since the office has started," he added. "There are thousands of women who are cared for through our office, coming to us from as far as Napa, Santa Cruz, Pleasanton and San Luis Obispo."

Dr. Candace Weinstein founded the clinic in 1984, the first such clinic to be founded by a woman physician in the area, Dr. McCarrick said. "It was opened to provide total care for women in all phases of life, teens through reproductive years and into menopause."

The facility had been struggling and almost closed its doors in 1998, but the medical foundation took it over and saved it, Ms. Greaves said.

"Since then, we've been stable and doing well," Dr. McCarrick said in an interview. "It sounds like the owner was pretty dead set on a number" for the new lease, he said. "The current realities of the world," he mused. "It's just kind of crazy."


Told of the plans to close in light of high rents, Virginia Dare, a resident of Woodside and a patient at the clinic for nearly 10 years, said she doesn't blame the foundation for leaving.

But as for going to the Palo Alto clinic: it's confusing and crowded, Ms. Dare said. "I don't really like it. At Ladera, you drive up, you park your car, they greet you by name and you're in."

"It's just another convenience that we're losing," she said. "If the rent's unreasonable for a rural community, I understand that."

Getting lab work done was particularly efficient in terms of time spent, Ms. Dare said.

Portola Valley resident Mimi Breiner agreed. "It was just so convenient to go down there and have the blood work done," she said. "I'll sure miss it."


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