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High-end healthcare exists right in our backyard

ENCINITAS — Since incorporation in 1986, the city of Encinitas has distinguished itself as a model community offering top-tier services in the areas of education, parks and recreation and public works.
Few would argue that most relevant to individual lives is healthcare delivery.
“Everybody’s worrying about the economy but at the end of the day there is nothing more important than your health,” said Marshall Weinreb, CEO of the Encinitas Chamber.
“The funny thing is that inside this beautiful city, regardless of your medical needs, it’s all here. You don’t have to travel 20 or 30 miles away.”
Weinreb emphasizes that those with top medical insurance are also choosing to seek treatment locally.
“Dean Sally
Foster of MiraCosta College, a breast cancer survivor, received all her care in Encinitas,” he said. “This is the point. People who can afford to go elsewhere like UCLA and Mt. Sinai don’t have to. Everything is represented in town at the highest level.”
Community Clinics
Encinitas residents who are uninsured or underinsured, burdened with high deductibles and co-pays, have a safety net with North County Health Services. The nonprofit operates two clinics in town staffed by physicians (some double-board certified), physician assistants, nurse practitioners and midwives.
The Encinitas Health Center located at 629 2nd St. operates much like a family practice offering medical, dental, mental health and vision screening and treatment.
The Women’s and Children’s Health Center in the former post office at 1130 2nd St. provides complete OB/GYN, prenatal and pediatric care. The clinic enjoys relationships with local hospitals that enable them to also offer labor and delivery services.
Health screenings and services are provided on a sliding scale.
“An overwhelming number of patients want to pay something for their healthcare and they do,” said Dana Withall, fund development director. “Self-pay has increased in the past 18 months because of so many job losses.”
Case managers are able to connect patients needing follow-up care with specialists and hospitals through state assistance.
“We are serving those who are most vulnerable and who may not have other choices in their health care,” Withall said. “There is a safety net in place in the community and it is well-supported. There should be no concerns or questions as to who can access NCHS services.”
Medical Groups and Specialties
North Coast Health Center at 477 N. El Camino Real  is the largest outpatient health center in North County offering more than 200 health practitioners representing more than 50 specialties plus ancillary services such as imaging, outpatient surgery, laboratory and pharmacy.
“North Coast Health Center is unique in that the vast majority of these services are located in one campus setting,” said Greg Petree, president and COO of AmeriCare Medical Properties. “Patients benefit by having access to the most reputable primary care and pediatric groups in North County as well as to some of the most cutting-edge specialty care anywhere in San Diego.”
 Two years ago, the center added a fourth medical building which substantially grew its cancer treatment capabilities and other medical specialties.  The expansion included the addition of CyberKnife Centers of San Diego offering the first CyberKnife stereotactic radiosurgery system to North County. The expansion also included medical oncology and pediatric specialty care as well as orthopedics, plastic surgery and an overnight sleep center.
This month North Coast Health Center completed construction of the first in vitro fertilization clinic and lab in North County.  Later this year the center will open a new hyperbaric wound care center boasting the nation’s largest outpatient hyperbaric chamber.
“Over the last 20 years, more and more medical services have migrated to an outpatient environment in Encinitas creating enormous patient convenience as well as cost savings,” Petree said. “When combined with the local clinic and hospital, Encinitas offers its residents the entire spectrum of medical care close to home.”
Located in the same block is the San Diego Cancer Center which uses a multidisciplinary approach to wellness. This includes physical, emotional and psychological guidance combined with a wide variety of clinical trials using new combinations of medicine, new molecules, immunotherapy, gene therapy and anti-angiogenesis which go hand-in-hand with research on the effects of complementary medicine therapies.
Therapies such as yoga meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture, reiki and support groups are free to any cancer patient in San Diego County through the center’s nonprofit, the San Diego Cancer Research Institute.
The center also houses the first satellite of the UCSD Department of Radiation Oncology. The facility offers patients state-of-the-art treatment that includes a Varian Trilogy linear accelerator, the most sophisticated technology available today in radiotherapy. Patients have access to all the latest treatments for every disease site including stereotactic brain/body radiosurgery, intensity modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy.
Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan has benefited from care at the center for treatment of endometrial cancer.
“Encinitas residents are extremely lucky to have the wide array of medical, mental health, dental and specialty medicine that we enjoy both through UCSD and Scripps Encinitas Health, and its corresponding offices, and also through practitioners located along the El Camino corridor near Garden View and in individual neighborhoods throughout the city,” she said.
“We have a long history of healing arts and we are living up to that history. It’s very fortunate that a city this size has this variety and level of sophistication in their health choices to include traditional medicine as well as complementary offerings such as chiropractic and eastern medicine, most notably acupuncture, qi gong and Chinese herbs. I look forward to working with the chamber and other community groups in educating the public about all of these options.”
Since 1978, Scripps Encinitas has served the growing communities of North County with 142 beds and more than 650 physicians. The hospital’s 1,400 employees have a personal stake in the community with about 54 percent living within a 10-mile radius of the city and more than 20 percent residing in Encinitas itself.
Despite having the busiest emergency room per bed, per capita in California, Scripps Encinitas’ ER has one of the top patient satisfaction scores in the nation.
To keep up with growth, Scripps Encinitas is about to launch a major expansion that will include a new parking structure and critical care building which will house state-of-the-art emergency and inpatient nursing departments.
Building is contingent on the success of fundraising efforts. Of the $65 million needed through philanthropy, $10 million was given by the Leichtag Foundation in December.
The donation is a welcomed gift.
“Coastal North County has grown dramatically in recent years, but our hospital has not expanded in nearly 20 years,” said Carl Etter, chief executive of Scripps Health Encinitas. “Despite that, we have managed to care for our patients at the highest level possible that ranks us in the top five percent of hospitals in the nation. The $10 million Leichtag Family Foundation gift to Scripps Encinitas will afford us the opportunity to expand our facility to meet the current and future needs of our community.”
A $7.5 million gift was donated earlier by the Leichtag Foundation.
“Past gifts have been very impactful,” said Dr. Michael Lobatz, immediate past chief of staff at Scripps Encinitas. “The gifts to the emergency department and the women’s birth pavilion have affected the lives of tens of thousands of people.”
Lobatz reports that the latest donation will be used to purchase an MRI breast coil, digital mammagram, anesthesia machine, cardiac echo machine, laprascopic video tower, EEG, Fluroscan C-arm x-ray used during surgery and wireless monitors for the emergency room.
Funds are also earmarked for renovations of the women’s imagining and outpatient lab areas.
“Virtually every part of the hospital is being touched by these gifts,” he said. “Hospitals today can’t exist without philanthropy.”
Scripps Encinitas’ parking structure is set to break ground in the spring, followed by the critical care building in 2011. Other upcoming projects include expansion of the main hospital building, a new outpatient services and medical office building, and an acute care building.
This article is the first of a four-part series dealing with Encinitas as a health care destination.
The next story will explore services available to uninsured and underinsured residents through community clinics operated by North County Health Services.