By Sheri Mobley 

for CenCal Health

In response to noted gaps in access to health care locally, CenCal Health is implementing a Network Access Improvement program. CenCal Health is the publicly sponsored health plan for Medi-Cal in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The new program will focus on increasing primary and specialty care capacity for local Medi-Cal members, as well as improving access to care for children and disabled members.

The priorities will be accomplished in two ways: by recruiting new medical professionals to the network, and by funding specialized medical equipment such as vaccine refrigerators and exam room apparatus that accommodate the needs of mobility-impaired patients.

Due to membership growth outpacing local resources, CenCal Health has committed $2 million to the recruitment of new medical practitioners to its network on the Central Coast. The funding will provide financial incentives to current network providers, including covering recruitment costs and salaries for new providers.

“The Access Improvement program is an effort to help ensure that the Central Coast will be able to address both the shortage of certain medical specialists locally; as well as to generally assist in attracting new providers to the area,” said Bob Freeman, CenCal Health CEO. “In the next few years, we will experience a wave of retiring physicians.

“Hopefully, the program will proactively address this future physician shortage, and also attract new specialists to the area that are currently not here.”

CenCal Health has additional money for providers — up to $5,000 per location — to fund medical equipment that will improve access to health care for children, seniors and disabled patients. The health plan has especially seen gaps in care related to patients’ mobility.

“We have learned that a majority of wheelchair-bound women do not get their annual cervical cancer screening because they cannot transfer from their chair to the exam table,” said Terri Howell, director of provider services at CenCal Health. “These women are at the same risk of getting cervical cancer as the rest of the general population of women in the same age range, but they don’t get the exams. 

“This program will address that with funding for power adjustable, hi-low treatment tables in the provider’s office.” 

Other equipment that could be funded to retrofit a medical exam room: exam table overhead trapeze bars for patient mobility, and weight scales for the wheelchair-bound.

There is also funding assistance for providers who participate in the Child Health and Disability Prevention program for the purchase of Vaccines for Children-compliant refrigerators. These purpose-built refrigerated storage units maintain proper temperatures to protect the viability of infant and childhood vaccines.

“As physicians, it is important that we work with the health plan to identify challenges faced by our Medi-Cal members and identify potential strategies for better managed care,” said Dr. René Bravo of Bravo Pediatrics in San Luis Obispo.

“A program like this, which expands the provider network and provides funds for medical equipment, means a greater chance that patients will receive proper care at every appointment,” Bravo said.

CenCal Health’s Network Access Improvement program began in January. Information on CenCal Health is available at