By Drew Penner
About 2,000 San Lorenzo Valley community members will now have access to care close to home, thanks to a new health clinic that opened at the site of a Ben Lomond historic church on Jan. 24.
Where the Wee Kirk Church once welcomed parishioners to mend their souls, now nonprofit Santa Cruz Community Health will now provide comprehensive primary care services.
The clinic will be open 30 hours a week, to start, with three doctors on staff—Chief Medical Officer Casey KirkHart and Dr. Rose Lovell and Dr. Leelia Franck.
But already health officials are dreaming bigger.
They hope the space will eventually offer in-person behavioral health care, although those services are offered remotely, for now.
The building was previously the home of Dr. Steven Leib’s family medical practice.
He and his wife Vivian restored the historic church in 2014, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
Lisa Robinson, president of the board of the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Society, who was at the opening, told the Press Banner the Leibs did a really good job fixing it up.
“They’ve always felt that this building belonged to the community,” she said. “I’m really pleased that they have found the right group to take over.”
She expects it will continue to be a powerful place of healing.
“It has just such a special feeling when you come through the door,” she reflected, as people milled through the space for the first time. “You feel better just being in this space.”
Leslie Conner, SCCH’s CEO, said the community clinic will take care of people in an area of the county that’s been underserved.
“Our goal is to increase access to high-quality, affordable health care for this area, particularly for low-income people,” she said in a release.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Glo Nieto, a SCCH patient—and board member—who lives in Ben Lomond, said she’s happy she can receive care just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from her dahlia garden.
“I’m so excited about this,” she said. “I can’t believe I was afraid of moving up here.”
But now that she’s being treated for Stage 4 cancer, it’s a place that she knows will become familiar.
“This is where I belong,” she said.
The church bell rang at 9:53am, announcing to all those in earshot that a new day in San Lorenzo Valley health care had begun.