By Christina Autry

What once was a small charity clinic in the Spring Branch District 15 years ago has grown into a Federally Qualified Health Center, serving 20,000 patients annually. For the past ten years, CEO Marlen Trujillo has been at the helm of the Spring Branch Community Health Center, which remains the only community clinic to provide services in Spring Branch.

A passionate group of Spring Branch community leaders established the original clinic in response to the health concerns they saw in the area. Physicians, accountants, lawyers, clergy, and others banded together to create a board, with the goal of starting a clinic to improve the quality of life for their neighbors.

The desire for quality, affordable medical services was not just a good idea, but a federally recognized need. As in many parts of Houston, the medical requirements of the community outweigh the medical services available within the area. The Bureau of Health Workforce designates these geographic regions as Medically Underserved Areas or Populations. With this knowledge, stakeholders in the community were further encouraged to help fill these gaps.

Due to her active involvement in the community as a college student, Trujillo was invited to become a board member. “They needed representation from the Hispanic community, and I grew up in Spring Branch, and lived in the neighborhood, so I joined. I served on the board for several years before the clinic opened,” she recalls. After eventually receiving her MBA in Finance and serving as CFO of the clinic, Trujillo moved into the CEO position in 2009.

Under her leadership, the Spring Branch Community Health Center has blossomed into a clinic with a unique, community-centered mission. “The community health center model integrates services to treat the health and wellness of individuals,” explains Trujillo. The clinic offers standard services such as adult and pediatric medicine, OBGYN, dental, and behavioral health – but that’s not all. “We add the social services component to a typical doctor’s visit. We are able to connect our patients to resources such as housing, Medicaid eligibility, food services, rental assistance, and a wide range of support.”

“But sometimes a patient with a stomach ache doesn’t need a medical examination, they need food in their pantry,” explains Trujillo. “We have a dietician who provides nutrition classes, and actually prescribes food if they come to their regular visits. We are a connector to make sure our patients’ needs are being addressed.” Local non-profits are critical to the work that the clinic does. Memorial Assistance Ministries, the Houston Food Bank, Spring Branch ISD, and the Boys and Girls Club are among a long list of organizations which play an invaluable role in this holistic approach to healing.

Patients are welcome regardless of their type of insurance, or lack thereof. Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare, and all private insurances are accepted. For patients who are uninsured, the clinic uses a sliding scale based on income to determine payment. Trujillo speaks for the clinic when she expresses her dedication to serving individuals without insurance, despite any disagreement she has faced from the outside. “We are trying to help create a healthy community for all of us. If we don’t take care of the most vulnerable individuals in our community, there is no way we can help build a healthy community. We all impact each other. We don’t want long lines of people at the E.R. who have not had access to preventative medicine,” Trujillo says.

With medical partners such as the University of Houston, MD Anderson, and University of Texas, the clinic is able to screen and refer patients to specialists when specific concerns arise. Mammograms and other screenings provided at the clinics have revealed early stages of cancer, which can then be taken care of. “Our staff, most of whom are bilingual, help our patients navigate the complicated healthcare system. We follow up with patients to check on them and make sure they are connecting with the resources we provide,” says Trujillo.

The clinic has expanded over the years in response to the changing needs of the community, with the biggest push recently being behavioral health. The Hillendahl location is being remodeled to focus on psychology, counseling, and treating substance abuse. “Addressing mental health, especially in adolescents, is a huge need in our city and across the nation,” says Trujillo. To help meet the high demand for psychiatric services, telepsychiatry is a service provided which allows patients to meet with a psychiatrist via video conferencing.

The vision for the future of Spring Branch Community Health Center is to make an impact by addressing the social determinants of health, rather than simply treating the symptoms. “It takes more than a clinic providing medical services to reach that goal,” says Trujillo. “That is why we are always building connections with the nonprofits in the neighborhood. We are advocates for more greenspaces, parks, ways for people to exercise safely, and access to fresh groceries. We’re looking at everything as a whole. It’s going well so far; we’ve made a lot of progress in Spring Branch. We are gradually connecting the dots.”

For all locations, contact info, appointment information: http://www.sbchc.net