Shortly after a miscarriage a few months ago, Silenia Fernandez was surprised by a phone call from her doctor at the Burke Health Center in Santa Monica.

It was nothing more than a follow-up call to see how she was doing after the traumatic experience. But to Fernandez, the show of concern was appreciated and a sign that the clinic was under new management.

The Burke Health Center is one of eight Los Angeles County health clinics that were taken over by private, non-profit organizations as part of a plan to ease the county's 1995 health budget crisis.

"The doctors give us more attention now, and a phone call like that wouldn't have come a couple years ago," said Fernandez, a mother of four who has come to the clinic since 1992.

The county-owned Burke clinic is now managed and run by the non-profit Venice Family Clinic. Clinic officials are careful not to claim that their medical care is better than what the county offered just better organized.

"Our doctors and county doctors are both equally well qualified," said Jeff Catania, director of development for the clinic. "The difference now is that a patient can, in many more cases, receive all the health care they need in their own community and not have to travel to the county hospitals for specialty care."

Fernandez's comments echo those of other patients who have seen the Burke clinic switch from county staff management to private management under the county's Public-Private Partnership.

When the Venice Family Clinic took over on Nov. 1, 1995, the county doctors and other staff were transferred to other county centers. The Venice facility, which has served the area's indigent since its founding in 1971, brought in its own doctors and style of management.

It set out to expand the clinic's range of services, which had been limited to prenatal care and things like immunizations far short of what is usually considered "family medicine."

The Public-Private Partnership is part of the county's plan to broaden the number of clinic sites, expand services and redirect low-income patients away from county hospital emergency rooms for treatment of "ambulatory" problems.

Under the plan, the Venice Family Clinic also took over management of the Venice Health Center. Three other Los Angeles area non-profit clinic organizations each took over two county clinics and more may follow.

Clinic Executive Director Elizabeth Forer said county doctors and staff were relocated to other facilities mostly because they wanted to remain working within the county system, which offers civil service protections and other benefits.


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