Health & Medicine

Donated ultrasound machines at south Sac clinic will help region’s poorest moms-to-be

WellSpace Health is showing off three state-of-the-art ultrasound machines Friday morning at its Women’s Health Center in south Sacramento, gifts from the Anthem Blue Cross for an organization that cared for one in every 10 women who gave birth last year in Sacramento County.

Until now, moms-to-be saw their obstetricians at the south Sacramento facility, but they had to go to Sutter Health or another provider for ultrasounds. The machines can cost upward of $100,000 each.

Expectant mom Aerzou Bahari said she wished the machines had been available just a month or two ago when it was time for her first ultrasound because that would have made things easier.

“When my doctor ordered the ultrasound, I had to wait two weeks for the insurance,” she said, “and when the insurance accepted it, I had to wait for Sutter to call me and let me know that my insurance was accepted and I could make an appointment.”

In remarks emailed to The Bee ahead of Friday’s event, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, applauded Anthem Blue Cross for donating critical machines that will help WellSpace continue providing compassionate care to some of the region’s poorest residents.

As a federally qualified health center, WellSpace is mandated to provide medical services to the uninsured and to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The nonprofit medical provider has 30 locations around the Sacramento region.

“Every mother and baby deserves top-notch care, and community clinics, like WellSpace Health, are on the front lines of delivering that care in the Sacramento region,” Matsui said. “WellSpace is a lifeline to essential care for all women and children – regardless of income, and it is our collective duty to ensure that they have the tools needed to best serve their patients.”

Matsui and other attendees were in for a surprise at Friday’s festivities. The physician group serving WellSpace patients, River City Medical Group, was expected to announce that it will donate two more machines, meaning that every WellSpace site in the women’s health program will now have ultrasound machines, said WellSpace spokesperson Ben Avey.

River City Medical Group decided to make the gift, Avey said, because the machines that Anthem donated already are making a difference in ensuring patients follow through with appointments and physicians have ready access to actionable information.

Bahari, who’s due in November, said it will be much less stressful for patients to have the machines in-house. At Friday’s open house, Bahari will be the patient that doctors use to demonstrate the new machines. A medical assistant who trained at the WellSpace women’s center, Bahari said she lives closer to other WellSpace facilities but chose the south Sacramento location because she was so impressed by the care the staff there showed patients during their pregnancies. She recommended the facility to one of her cousins.

The WellSpace team “believes that everybody deserves to be seen, no matter who you are, where you come from, where you work or what place you call home,” WellSpace executive Brenda Shipp wrote in remarks she planned to deliver late Friday morning.

WellSpace provides an array of services in its women’s health program, from breast and cervical screenings to gynecological exams, Shipp said, and physicians who practice there also attend the births of their patients at Sutter and Dignity hospitals.

Before moms leave the hospital, she noted, the WellSpace team already has scheduled them for pediatric visits and follow-up visits with their gynecologists. They also run a comprehensive behavioral health program that can help any moms struggling with postpartum depression.

WellSpace has a range of programs to ensure it addresses health disparities. For instance, Shipp said, although black women have higher rates of poor birth outcomes, WellSpace has instituted an intensive program that has assured more than 500 black moms-to be have successfully delivered live babies, only 5 percent of whom were premature or had low birth weights.

Dr. Demetria Malloy, the chief medical officer for Anthem’s Medicaid health plan, said WellSpace and River City Medical serve many Anthem members, and her organization explored in a number of meetings what they needed to excel at preventive care. The ultrasound machines, she said, kept coming up.

“They can take more appointments where they would use this equipment, and it would lessen the waiting times. They would have more timeliness and more follow-up,” Malloy said. “It’s about bringing more timely care to the members and making sure they can get in for what they need to. We thought this was the fix that needed to be done here.”

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.