Getting a leg up on life, one person at a time

January 28, 2022

Originally published in Venice Living Magazine – January 28, 2022

When Olivia first came to Venice Family Clinic, she hadn’t been feeling very well, physically or mentally. She had injured her leg, limiting her ability to exercise and work, and had gained weight.

What Olivia, who is in her early 50s, didn’t realize was that she was dealing with several health issues at once, making it all feel even worse. But over the course of the past year, the team at Venice Family Clinic has gotten Olivia back on her feet – literally and figuratively.

Olivia’s primary care physician, Dr. Kimberly Grueneisen, diagnosed her with prediabetes and premenopause, and referred her to the Clinic’s Health Education department to help her get out of the diabetes danger zone. But it soon became clear that Olivia needed to address her mental health first.

“Initially, Olivia’s goal was to lose weight. But as I started talking to her about her diet and what her daily life was like, our conversations became a gateway to talking about her mental health,” said Health Educator Maria Reyes Aquino. “I discovered that she was sleeping longer than usual, rarely leaving her house, crying often, skipping meals or eating large meals. I helped Olivia understand that her body wouldn’t go anywhere until her mind got there first.”

Dr. Grueneisen had talked to Olivia about taking medication to help with anxiety and depression, but Olivia thought that if she could just lose weight, she would be happier. Reyes Aquino gently continued to encourage her to take Dr. Grueneisen’s advice, and over time, Olivia did, putting her on a path to true healing.

As she began to feel better mentally, Reyes Aquino showed Olivia how to be active physically as her leg healed, taught her about a balanced diet and referred her to the Clinic’s free food program so she could eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Olivia also plans to continue her care with the counselors and therapists in the Clinic’s Behavioral Health department.

Olivia’s story is just one example of the comprehensive integrated care that Venice Family Clinic offers without regard to income, insurance or immigration status.

Venice Family Clinic provides high quality primary health care to people who are under-resourced and might not otherwise have access to the care they need to get and stay healthy. The Clinic has grown from a small storefront operation into one of Los Angeles’ leading community health centers.

In November 2021, the Clinic merged with South Bay Family Health Care, combining more than a century of experience and expanding the scope and comprehensiveness of its services to 45,000 patients and to people without care stretching from the Santa Monica Mountains through the South Bay. The unified organization, which operates under the Venice Family Clinic name, has 17 locations in Venice, Santa Monica, Culver City, Mar Vista, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach, Gardena, and Carson, plus two mobile clinics and an expansive street medicine program for people experiencing homelessness.

With the support of generous donors, the Clinic provides integrated care by creating a one-stop health system that offers multiple services, often at the same locations and same time as primary care appointments. This model lowers barriers to care for patients who don’t always have reliable transportation and often can’t afford to take a day off from work. In addition to primary care, the Clinic’s services include mental health, dental care, vision, substance use treatment, child development, health education, prescription medications, domestic violence counseling, HIV services, health insurance enrollment and more.

Today, Olivia takes 45-minute walks multiple times a week, eats more vegetables, has a healthier A1c level and an overall happier disposition. She is looking forward to being able to work again soon, maybe even in a role helping other Latinx people with their mental health in an effort to pay it forward within her community.

“The Clinic opened many possibilities for changing my life. My mind, my body – it’s totally different now,” she said. “Everyone has issues in their life. I couldn’t believe the people here listened to me and cared about me. This is my family.”

The feeling is mutual for the Clinic’s staff, too.

“When I see Olivia now, I feel like I’ve made a difference,” Reyes Aquino said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished a little of what our ultimate goal is here and that I’ve contributed to the mission of Venice Family Clinic.”