December 8, 2021
Manhattan Beach, June 1969. It had been two years since the Summer of Love sparked a youth cultural movement, marked by an anti-war stance, anti-consumerism, substance use and free love, which spread from the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco to the shores of Southern California – and with it a need for affordable health care.
Following the lead of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, a group of like-minded individuals, including volunteer clinicians and community members, started the South Bay Free Clinic in Hermosa Beach before relocating to a small storefront on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. They hung a sign outside with the operating hours for the day, which were based on the availability of volunteer clinicians, and soon lines of people up to 30 people deep began to form.
It was clear that there was a need in the community. Young people who needed family planning services and sexually transmitted disease testing either didn’t feel comfortable going to their parents and family doctors for care, or if they were on their own, simply couldn’t afford it.
“They were runaways, and they had drug problems and mental issues. They were kids – some were 14, 15 – and they were unsophisticated. They had no idea what life was like,” said Dan “Mac” McIntyre, one of the clinic’s early volunteers who had served in the Vietnam War as a medic. “Not only did the clinic provide medical treatment, but they also offered psych. And they performed miracles.”
Over more than 50 years, the clinic grew and evolved to address the changing needs of its community to provide accessible, quality care to people who historically have been underserved. The clinic expanded its support for teens with peer-to-peer programs and added HIV testing and counseling as the epidemic emerged. It went from being one of the largest free clinics in the United States to a federally qualified health center, making it eligible to receive funding and reimbursement from government agencies. The clinic changed its name to South Bay Family Health Care and opened locations in Gardena, Redondo Beach, Carson and Inglewood, expanding its services throughout the area to offer a full range of health care for all families. Today, the clinic’s services include primary care, women’s health, prenatal, pediatrics, dental, chronic disease management, school-based care at Carson High School, vaccine distributions and more, as well as staying true to its roots with family planning, HIV testing and support, and teen services.
On November 1, 2021, South Bay Family Health Care merged with Venice Family Clinic, which also came from humble origins and was founded around the same time, just a few miles up the coast.
South Bay Family Health Care brings complementary strengths in several areas, including in group-based prenatal and pediatric care. The clinic is an official CenteringPregnancy™ and CenteringParenting™ site, making it one of just a handful of sites in Los Angeles County to offer these programs, which combine medical check-ups with parent support groups led by a clinician. The clinic began offering these services as early as 2014, and this experience will bolster Venice Family Clinic’s CenteringPregnancy program, which began in 2019 before it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another area where South Bay Family Health Care excels is in community outreach and partnerships, much like Venice Family Clinic does. Staying true to its roots, and despite funding struggles, South Bay Family Health Care has provided free and anonymous HIV testing since the 1980s and opened the first HIV/AIDS case management program in the area in 1987. Along with the South Bay AIDS Network, the clinic has held annual World AIDS Day public health events for the past 30 years, including candlelight walks at the Hermosa Beach pier and educational events with area high schools that include PSA poster and video contests for students. And for more than 40 years, the clinic has provided medical screenings, including those for vision, hearing and diabetes, at health fairs for seniors in partnership with several cities in the region.
Expanding our community
South Bay Family Health Care serves a patient population similar to Venice Family Clinic’s, and a significant portion of its patients come from the Hispanic, Black, Asian and Pacific Islander communities who live in the South Bay, allowing the combined organization to continue to work toward health equity by expanding our reach to an even more diverse group of people.
“One of the rewarding things about working for South Bay Family Health Care is seeing all the different cultures among our patients and staff,” said Dr. Kurene Ma’o, interim chief medical officer for South Bay Family Health Care. “Because I’m someone from one of these communities, it’s often easier for me to relate to some of the fears or concerns patients have when it comes to getting health care. When you understand the language and the culture, it makes patients feel more at ease and helps them make a more informed decision about their care.”
Providing compassionate, culturally competent care that makes people feel comfortable and understood in a health care setting is an ongoing goal both Venice Family Clinic and South Bay Family Health Care share. By combining forces, the two clinics, as a unified organization, will be able to bring all our expertise to the 45,000 patients we now serve, as well as to people currently without care in our respective areas, expanding access to quality, comprehensive care to more people. We look forward to what the future brings as we learn from each other and grow together.