Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publication.
Share Our Selves (SOS), the Costa Mesa-based community health center, celebrated its 50th anniversary this August with the unveiling of a new mobile health unit.
Recently, the organization was able to complete the renovations needed to get a mobile medical unit up and running. Now underserved populations in Costa Mesa and neighboring Orange County cities will have greater access to the high-quality, comprehensive care that SOS offers, including medical, dental, women’s and children’s wellness services.
Among those honored at the ribbon cutting ceremony were Congressman Harley Rouda, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. Each honoree was presented with the “Share Our Selves Health Center Champion Award” for their advocacy and on-going support of the organization.
“When you think about health, you have to think outside the four walls of a clinic- zip code matters, social connection matters, whether someone has a roof over their head or access to a meal matters- all these things matter. Some of these things I can fix with a prescription pad. For other things I have no way other than to partner with people in the community to provide the services that are needed,” said Dr. Jay Lee, SOS Chief Medical Officer. “With our mobile unit we have the opportunity to break down some of those walls of distance and isolation and be able to get to communities that are in great need of the services that we can provide.”
The new mobile unit is equipped to provide comprehensive health services, including urgent and emergent care. The small team is doing big things but Lee hopes to expand with the help of other community agencies like Mercy House and City Net, both non-profits dedicated to ending homelessness.
SOS offers not just comprehensive healthcare, but a host of additional social and safety net services, such as financial and food aid.
The organization runs a food pantry out of its Costa Mesa campus Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30pm. In 2019 alone, SOS gave out 52,000 bags of groceries. With millions of Americans currently facing financial uncertainty due to the pandemic, the need has never been greater.
Throughout this unprecedented time SOS has been a lifeline to many in the community, including Orange Coast College students. During the early stage of the pandemic, SOS partnered with OCC’s Pirate’s Cove food pantry and became a stand-in option for students when the campus was forced to close in mid-March.
SOS also helps bridge the gap created by the lack of a county hospital in Orange County. “In the past year alone Share Our Selves has provided medical and mental health services to over 50,000 people,” said Will Klatte, SOS Board Chair.
When people think of a community health center, they often think of basic health services. SOS, however, demonstrates the full potential of what a community health center can do.
“[It’s] not just urgent care but they can get their preventive care, care for chronic disease. They can get their medications, they can get vaccines, dental care, behavioral or mental health care; it’s not just about direct medical services,” said Christy Ward, SOS Chief Executive Officer and board member of the California Primary Care Association.
Fifty years ago, the seeds of giving were planted by a small group of volunteers on the steps of a local church. Today they have blossomed into a thriving non-profit organization that is also a federally qualified health center - a distinction that affords the group access to federal funds, allowing them to offer additional vital services.
In order for a community health center to become federally qualified, they must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding-fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients. Of the 26 community health centers in Orange County, only 17 of them are federally qualified.
“This is what you want to be when you grow up; you want to be a federally qualified health center so that you then are able to access resources to be able to expand, build mobile units, go out from your original site and expand. Without those resources it’s impossible to do,” said Isabel Becerra, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers.
SOS offers more services per square mile than any other community health center in Orange County.
“It’s not just Costa Mesa. They're in Lake Forest, they’re in Santa Ana. They’re in Newport Beach, whereas the majority of the health centers in the county are single site,” Becerra said. “They are bigger in every sense of the word. They have a longer history and phenomenal leadership.”
According its website, 85 cents of every dollar donated to SOS goes directly to program services. Thanks to generous support from donors throughout the community and thousands of volunteers annually, SOS has become a permanent fixture and, with its new mobile health unit, can now provide even more care and greater access to those who need it most.