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CenCal Health earns top marks among Medi-Cal providers for prenatal and postpartum care 

For all the parts of everyday existence that were put on pause during COVID-19, one didn't go anywhere: the miracle of life.

"Our number of in-hospital deliveries has stayed steady," Dr. Karen Hord, deputy chief medical officer at CenCal Health, told New Times. "We haven't had any clinics or hospitals close for this essential care."

QUALITY CARE CenCal Health continues to deliver some of the best pregnancy care in the state in SLO and Santa Barbara counties, even amid the chaos of COVID-19. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • QUALITY CARE CenCal Health continues to deliver some of the best pregnancy care in the state in SLO and Santa Barbara counties, even amid the chaos of COVID-19.

But CenCal Health providers didn't just keep up with the ever-present need for quality pregnancy care—they excelled at it.

As the publicly sponsored health plan for Medi-Cal in San Luis Obiso and Santa Barbara counties, CenCal Health received the best marks among all 56 Medi-Cal plans in California for timeliness of prenatal and postpartum care. Santa Barbara County earned the top spot, while San Luis Obispo County came in second. Both counties additionally rated in the top 5 percent nationally among all Medicaid plans for the same category.

Hord said part of what makes CenCal Health stand out for its pregnancy care is its "very devoted team of member services employees, who we call health navigators."

When those navigators are informed of someone in the system who received a pregnancy diagnosis but hadn't yet established prenatal care, "we find a provider and set up their initial appointment," Hord explained. "I think that's very helpful in getting people engaged."

The health plan then continues that quality of care well into post-delivery.

"We keep track of them, call them, schedule appointments, and encourage them to come in," Hord said. "If we find anyone who needs extra care or assistance with transportation, food delivery, or any of those very important social needs, then we can always use our case management team to make extra calls and help set up if they need rides or any additional support."

Hord also emphasized the key role their providers play in allowing CenCal's care quality to excel.

"We have over 1,500 primary care and specialist providers who are very committed to our population, and they are the ones that really make everything happen," Hord said. "We can share information and we can encourage them to help us get these great scores, but really it's their work that is reflected in these numbers."

Tejal Vinchhi, director of women's health at Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, a CenCal Health provider, said pregnancy care is a team effort.

"We have providers, nurses, health educators, dietitians, social workers—we all work together as a care team for our patients, and there's constant communication to make sure that nothing is missed for the patient," Vinchhi said. "In both these counties we have meetings for high-risk patients—so plan of care is discussed at all the providers. They're on the same page as to what's going to happen to the patient when they deliver if they are high risk."

While the pandemic certainly hasn't stopped CenCal Health providers from continuing to deliver some of the best prenatal and postpartum care in the state, it has inevitably changed parts of the pregnancy and birth experience, San Luis Obispo-based Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dr. Anna Bobba told New Times.

"Obviously in the past when people would have a baby, families would come and visit the baby in the hospital. We are lucky enough that we're able to let one person in, because in certain parts of the country they're not letting anybody in and these women are giving birth alone," Bobba said. "But that has been challenging to only have one person. When you have a newborn, everyone wants to see the baby, but we've been encouraging them to do FaceTime and things like that so they can limit exposure."

Through it all, Vinchhi said local providers are figuring out how to strike the right balance.

"We are constantly changing to meet the needs of our county," Vinchhi said. "CenCal Health has set high standards for us, and we strive to make sure we meet those standards. We want to make sure that it's the same level we provide to all our patients, irrespective of their insurance, ethnicity, financial status—we don't differentiate."

Fast fact

The Women's March in San Luis Obispo is going virtual this year. An hour-long event will be held online on Jan. 23 at 10:30 a.m., with the theme Power Up Democracy. The fifth annual rally will feature a lineup of speakers and performers "who advocate for social, racial, and environmental justice," according to Women's March SLO. Visit womensmarchslo.com for more details. Δ

Malea Martin is a staff writer at New Times' sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun. She wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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