Fulfilling a Mission: Dr. Mitesh Popat is committed to helping the underserved

March 23, 2023

By Srianthi Perera, originally published in The Argonaut, March 23, 2023

Throughout his professional life, Dr. Mitesh Popat has committed himself to helping underserved people obtain quality health care.

The new chief executive officer of Venice Family Clinic has received a fresh platform to fulfill this mission.

“Venice Family Clinic has done an extraordinary job of meeting the health care needs of the community by looking at the full life continuum — all the way from birth to elder care,” he said.

Popat brings a breadth of experience that matches the needs of the multifaceted community health center that has 17 sites.

After its merger with the South Bay Family Health Care, the nonprofit absorbed 27,000 more people in need. Spanning an area from the Santa Monica Mountains through the South Bay, it now serves 45,000 people annually, regardless of their income, insurance or immigration status.

Venice Family Clinic spearheaded many successful programs, including The Community Connection, which builds better health outcomes for young families; the development of street medicine for people experiencing homelessness and a Street Medicine Curriculum to train others in this specialized practice; substance use treatment in a primary care setting; and screenings for food insecurity.

The clinic is also a local leader in providing a one-stop-shop type of service. In addition to primary care, they include mental health services, dental and vision care, domestic violence counseling, health education and child development services.

“We offer these services often at the same locations and same times as primary care appointments,” Popat said. “This best serves our patients who face significant difficulties with returning for subsequent appointments because they often have limited transportation options, and many work in positions that either don’t pay them for time away from the job or strictly limit their time off for medical care.”

Born in Illinois but raised in California, Popat grew up in Rancho Cucamonga. He earned a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences from the University of California, Irvine.

As part of his public health degree, he spent three months in India where he helped launch diabetes group visits. Other educational projects abroad were in Honduras and South Africa.

His wife, Sabrina, is a behavioral health counselor, and they have three school-age children.

The Popats moved to Redondo Beach from northern California when Popat left his position as head of the Marin Community Clinics to work in LA. Sabrina sold her senior care home business, which she had operated until last October.

“She’s currently a homemaker, which is critical with our significant family change in moving to Los Angeles,” he said.

Throughout his career, Popat has been a practicing physician and senior leader at community health centers. Prior to his tenure at Marin Community Clinics, he served as associate medical director of La Clínica de la Raza in Vallejo.

In this new role, one priority is modernizing the flagship Rose Avenue clinic, in a building that was acquired in 1983. The project, expected to be completed this year, will provide patients with easier access to services, including a ground-floor pharmacy and a community room for fitness classes and counseling groups.

The other notable project is the renovation of the newly purchased Inglewood facility, which will be the hub of The Community Connection. To be implemented over the next two years, the initiative will expand and integrate medical, mental health, early childhood education and other services to young families. Launched with a $5 million grant from the Tikkun Olam Foundation, The Community Connection serves families from the moment they are expecting a child through the first three years of the child’s life.

As the head of this massive operation, fundraising is also a priority.

“Like all nonprofit organizations, raising the funds necessary to provide all of our services is always a challenge,” Popat said.

The Westside has been especially strong in supporting Venice Family Clinic Art Walk + Auction, an annual fundraiser started in 1979 by architect Frank Gehry and Venice-based artists.

This year’s exhibition, from Tuesday, April 18, to Friday, May 19, takes place at Venice Family Clinic Art Walk Gallery at RUNWAY Playa Vista. Artist donated artwork will be auctioned online from Tuesday, April 18, to Thursday, May 4.

“This will be one of our largest fundraising events this year,” Popat said.

Looking forward, Popat said he feels the clinic’s future is “strong.”

Among its innovations is the street medicine program and detailed curriculum that trains the next generation of homeless health care providers. In 1985, the clinic was the first community health center in L.A. County to send health care providers into the streets to provide care to people experiencing homelessness. The program has grown to nine teams with 13 health care providers.

The clinic helped develop the model for providing substance use treatment in a primary care setting, which has been adopted by community health centers around the country.

It is also more than a medical clinic as patients are routinely screened for other factors in their lives, such as food insecurity and trauma, that can influence their health and well-being. Last year, the clinic held more than 100 food distribution events because nearly half of its patients struggle to put food on the table.

Popat is keen to address unmet needs in the burgeoning community he serves.

To that end, after the merger, he is in the process of assessing the needs in South Bay communities such as Gardena and Inglewood.

“We need to complete our assessments of the challenges those communities face to determine where there are opportunities for Venice Family Clinic to help more people,” he said.