In September 1972, we began as a small Migrant Health Services program connected to Merced General Hospital. Founding CEO, Mike Sullivan led the way with a budget of less than $200,000, a small but mighty staff of six, and a part-time MD. Services were provided at Merced General Hospital during evening hours. The following year, Merced Family Health Centers received its nonprofit corporation from the state of California and broke ground soon after on Childs Avenue in Merced, where our largest Health Center campus in the region remains today.
Since that time, we have expanded greatly to meet community needs across Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties, now serving nearly 150,000 patients each year through 45 clinical locations in the region. We have certainly grown but we will never outgrow our mission: to improve the health of our patients by providing quality, primary health care services to people in the communities we serve regardless of language, financial, or cultural barriers.
While 50 years sounds like a long time in a rapidly changing world, Golden Valley Health Center has not wavered from this ideology. We were born out of a strong desire to increase access to healthcare in the lives of migrant workers and provide care for the Central Valley’s critical farmworker population. It was the Migrant Health Act signed by John F. Kennedy in 1962 that allocated federal funding for programs like ours and later ensured health centers would serve anyone in search of medical care. We felt that way from the start and never denied services to a patient in need. An organization that began as a small grassroots effort to care for the uninsured has defied expectations and become one of the three largest Federally Qualified Health Centers in California.
Early on it was clear that demand for primary care surpassed what the Center could provide out of the small clinic in Merced, and rapid expansion began. By 1977 services were offered in Stanislaus County, with a clinic in Patterson, also serving the medical needs of West Stanislaus residents including those in Westley and Grayson, and we added medical clinics in Empire and West Modesto. The Centers in our new service area were named, Stanislaus Family Health Centers.
In the years that followed, clinic proposals were approved throughout the Valley in Merced and Stanislaus Counties. School-based health centers at Robertson Road and Hanshaw Middle school opened in 1993 and 1994, boosting student and community health in these under-served areas.
It was in 1995 that we adopted a new name…Golden Valley Health Centers, which would provide a unified brand and a personal approach to healthcare as growth continued. At the time, we operated with a staff of 41, serving 42,000 individuals per year of all ages, treating medical and dental issues, and urgent care needs across clinics in Merced, Modesto, Planada, Le Grand, Los Banos, Dos Palos, Patterson, Newman, and Turlock.
In 1998 we began a homeless healthcare program at the Modesto Inn to provide free medical services to Stanislaus County’s homeless population. Over the years we have prioritized Women’s Health and other specialty services have been adopted, like optometry, podiatry, and behavioral health to improve an array of health outcomes for residents. Technology use has improved, ushering in the era of electronic medical record systems, text messaging, and social media outreach to keep our community connected to services in the early 2000s.
In 2012, CEO Mike Sullivan retired after 40 years of service. Following an extensive search, Tony Weber was named President and CEO in 2014. Since that time, GVHC has seen a logo revision, launched a Foundation to support the work of the health center through philanthropy, and continued to grow, opening two new clinics in San Joaquin County and expanding into telehealth and remote health monitoring programs. Even in the midst of a pandemic, Golden Valley Health Centers has explored new frontiers to care for the changing needs of our community. We introduced an exciting new program, called PACE (a program of all-inclusive care for the elderly), which allows qualifying older adults to live safely at home while receiving personalized medical care, meals, activities, and camaraderie through an innovative day program.
The ideology that everyone should have access to health care has been central to Golden Valley’s work over the past five decades and remains our guiding principle today. At GVHC we make quality healthcare accessible to all. From our humble beginnings, in 1972, our mission has been to improve the health of our community. Through dedication, bold leadership, and a strong network of partners …50 years later we proudly continue this work and look forward to the future of healthcare through generations to come.