MENDOTA — Mendota residents who need to see a doctor or specialist now might have to travel 40 miles to the nearest hospital or specialty care clinic, but that’s about to change.
Health care and other social services will be provided in the AMOR Wellness Center, a rural health clinic and neighborhood resource center being built by the Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief (AMOR).
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The groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning brought elected officials, Mendota Unified school kids, health care and social service agency representatives, families, and AMOR officials to the center’s site at the corner of Belmont and Derrick avenues.
“This day signifies a fantastic start on this important project,” said Davena Witcher, AMOR’s executive director. “As we move forward, we will be reaching out to more community stakeholders, including west side farmers, for their financial support in completing our efforts.”
The $8 million wellness center and neighborhood resource center will be housed in two buildings totaling 20,000 square feet and will be within walking distance of Mendota’s local library, high school, middle school, and eldercare facility.
Health Care Needed in Evenings and Weekends
In addition to daytime hours, the clinic will be open during evenings and on weekends to accommodate the long workdays of farmworkers and their families. It will be staffed by Madera Community Hospital employees,
“Mendota, like many other rural communities across the county, has never had the medical, social, and youth development services it needs to thrive,” Witcher said. “The AMOR Wellness Center is going to change this dynamic forever, and thanks to our partners, we are building a sustainable model for rural communities that will be duplicated across the country.”
Too Few Doctors
The need for such services is great in Mendota, which has been designated as a “shortage area” for primary care, mental health, and dental health services by the California Office of Statewide Health Planning & Development.
Mayor Robert Silva told GV Wire that residents are looking forward to using services at the wellness center. The project is expected to be completed by July 2020.
“A lot of people are really happy about it,” Silva said.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, who spoke at the groundbreaking as an AMOR board member, said she was reluctant to add another project to her already full schedule when Witcher lobbied her to join the board.
Smittcamp said she remembered at the time she wished she could do more for Mendota, which lacked wellness and other support services. As she heard more about the wellness center project, “that young prosecutor from 15 years ago said, ‘This is your chance,’ ” she said.
Rural communities lack resources
State Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) said many rural communities like Mendota lack health and wellness facilities, and those communities pay the price. Caballero said the AMOR Wellness Center will provide much-needed services for parents and children in Mendota.
“It’s an incredible asset to the community — something that has never existed here,” she said. “So it’s wonderful.”
That need was obvious to AMOR founder Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes and publisher of GV Wire. AMOR had already provided funding and support for a hospital and 10 clinics in Afghanistan when Witcher put two photographs showing communities in dire poverty in front of him. One was in Afghanistan, which Assemi said he recognized, but he was shocked to learn that the other image was of Mendota.
“This is how people live. This is the kind of conditions that exist in Fresno County, in the 21st century,” he said. “And shame on us for letting that take place.”
Not Just Medical Care
The center will house services provided by Marjaree Mason Center, Learn4Life, West Hills Community College, Centro La Familia, and Turning Point of Central California. The project also will include a community garden, outdoor basketball court, developmental playground, and green space.
“If patients at the wellness center need behavioral or mental health services, doctors can immediately refer them to our clinicians,” he said.
The Mendota Wellness Center is the first project in the U.S. for AMOR, a nonprofit created to provide resources and services to families of minority culture and heritage.