Every cultural change, no matter how far-reaching, must begin with a few individuals who are prescient and brave enough to act on a good idea. Decades ago, a small group of committed people sparked an idea about improving the woefully inadequate health care that was then available on the coast. Thirty years on, Mendocino Coast Clinics has become the premier provider of primary and preventive “whole-person” medical care for coast residents, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. With compassion, sensitivity, and ingenuity the organization has grown, layering more and more crucial healthcare options—including medical, dental, behavioral health, reproductive health, and complementary services—onto its impressive menu.
“Open doors — it’s what we do.”
— Lucresha Renteria, Executive Director
Back in the 1970s, a part-time MD and small staff of volunteers set up a clinic in a tiny office in Mendocino with the intention of providing medical care, first aid, and treatment for the growing population of back-to-the-landers who were setting up communes up and down the coast. At that time, with only two doctors in Fort Bragg serving the entire coast, the need for more accessible medical services was extreme. Though not intended to be a ‘free clinic,’ the reality was that payments were few in that hippie heyday. On a shoestring budget, support came by way of a single glass jar at fundraiser dance parties to collect any tiny donations. In a surprise twist, a visitor to the coast was so impressed with the treatment his grandson had received at the little office that he made a substantial donation, at last giving the operation the means to better support its lofty intentions.
The Mendocino County Public Health Department assumed responsibility for the village medical office in the mid-1980s and relocated the office to a larger building in Fort Bragg. A few years later, that same Health Department changed its focus and publicly began to discuss closing the coast’s medical facility on Fir Street…causing consternation and outrage in the community and raising the ire of the local chapter of the fierce Gray Panthers.
As the vanguard of political movers and shakers who made their way to the coast during the back-to-the-land migration here, the audacious Gray Panthers (made up mostly of “women of a certain age”) were a force to be reckoned with and made it clear to the Board of Supervisors that “the need for public health care for the second-largest city in Mendocino County cannot be denied!” They petitioned the Board to “spin off” the Fort Bragg office to not-for-profit 501(c)3 status. After incorporation the mighty lift of county politics and Beilenson Hearings had to proceed in order to grant the Clinic a release from the County of Mendocino.
The first board of directors for this new health center came from the ranks of the dedicated activists who refused to take “No” for an answer. The redoubtable Liz Irwin was named the first board chairperson in 1992. Paula Cohen, who’d had healthcare management experience in the East Bay, was hired as the part-time Clinic Coordinator. (Years before, Paula and her husband, while looking for property to relocate, drove past that little medical office in Mendocino, and she thought to herself, “I’ll work there someday.”)
1994: Mendocino Coast Clinics (MCC) is launched On July 1, 1994, Mendocino Coast Clinics was “officially” founded with the assistance of the Public Health Administrator, Carol Mordhorst. A steadfast group of seven staff members made the transition and came together with their commitment to a single mission—to provide access to quality health care on the North Coast, regardless of the ability to pay.
The original staff, along with Paula Cohen, included Fred Dumas III, MD, as the part-time medical director; NPs Jayne Bush and Michele Tellier; LVN Judy Green, Dianne Skinner at reception, and Lucresha Renteria. Initially hired as a translator, Lucresha took on the duties of reception and billing as well.
After serving 2,564 patients with an operating budget of $408,000 that first year, it was clear that growth would be rapid—and necessary. MCC recognized early on that they would need to evolve, respond, and deliver the services that were not being provided to the community.
And respond they did: Within six months of their opening, MCC added behavioral health and counseling services. Over the years, that has expanded to include behavioral medicine, telemedicine services, and psychopharmacology.
“It is about the civility the Clinic represents and provides.”— M.R., Mendocino
1996: Local private-practice dentists requested that MCC begin providing dental care to the uninsured and those on Medi-Cal. One dentist, Kenneth Baumgartner, offered to open the clinic, providing his services once a month, and continues to do so! In rented space, and with equipment donated by John Hughes, DDS, a San Jose dentist who had retired to the coast, MCC’s Dental Clinic was soon opened. Dr. Hughes and his wife, Kathy, support MCC to this day. The Dental Clinic continues to be the only practice on the Coast that will treat adults and youth on Medi-Cal.
“Dr. Kim is very professional — Very knowledgeable — Very friendly — Perfect dental work every single time! I am very happy!”— Anonymous Dental Patient
1997—2003: With a shortage of exam rooms, multiple buildings around town being rented, and the staff having to double up in office space, MCC began to look for a location that would accommodate not only the rapid increase in the number of patients they were seeing, but also in the number of services they offered. Construction began at the 205 South Street site in Fort Bragg in 2000. By the time the doors opened in 2003, Mendocino Coast Clinics had earned the designation of a “Federally Qualified Health Center” (FQHC). A community-based organization, FQHCs are a vital component of health care locally and throughout the country. Their mission is to serve the community as a “safety net” provider. As such, MCC is mandated—though not always fully funded—to provide comprehensive primary and preventive medicine. This includes medical, dental, mental health, and substance abuse services to persons of all ages, notwithstanding their ability to pay. This responsibility is extended to all residents throughout MCC’s vast service area—fifty miles of rural and geographically isolated portions of the northern California coast, from Westport to Elk and inland to Comptche. Eighty-eight percent of its patients are from Fort Bragg, Caspar, Mendocino, Little River, Albion, Elk, and Point Arena; 8 percent make the drive from Gualala, Willits, Philo, Manchester, Ukiah, Branscomb, Laytonville, Boonville, and Westport; and the final 4 percent are, typically, tourists, visiting from outside the Coast.
1999: Crab and Wine Days was initiated by promotional groups (now Visit Mendocino County) to attract tourists to the Coast during the quiet days of winter—Dungeness Crab season was the perfect “bait.” Originally held at Crown Hall in Mendocino, the early gatherings brought in visitors and locals alike to taste crab cakes and sip Mendocino wines. MCC was surprised to learn that the clinic had been chosen to be the beneficiary of whatever profits would be made that first year—and gratefully accepted a check for five hundred dollars. Fast forward to 2020 (the most recent event prior to COVID restrictions): Mendocino county chefs, wineries, and food and beverage purveyors served their delights to five hundred supporters inside the Big White Tent in Fort Bragg, netting over $140,000! Far from a strictly local event, travelers visit the coast from across the country and throughout California to attend and contribute to MCC’s fundraiser. Lodging, restaurants, and small businesses are treated to an off-season boost. Visit Mendocino County now oversees a ten-day Seafood & Sip Festival with crab, wine, and related events throughout the county. Their 2024 calendar of exciting events is at visitmendocino.com.
2005: When Mendocino Coast District Hospital made the fateful decision to close its prenatal/obstetrics department, MCC stepped up to fill the gap in health care that is fundamental to women’s well being. “See a need, fill a need.” To house these vital expanded services, the Clinics leased, and ultimately purchased and remodeled, its Sequoia Circle site. This Clinic continues to offer comprehensive OB services, as well as lactation support, diabetes education, and nutritional screening.
Additionally, at the Sequoia Circle site, MCC’s Patient Advocates offer confidential, bilingual screening to assist with applications for SSI, SDI, Medicare Part D, State/Federal healthcare programs, and MCC’s sliding fee discount program. This assistance is free of charge and offered to all coastal residents, whether or not they are currently patients at Mendocino Coast Clinics.
2010-2011: Local MDs, specialists in geriatrics and pediatrics, were keeping a watchful eye on their pending retirements and increasingly draconian government requisites for doctors, as well as dealing with requirements to invest in expensive new electronic record-keeping systems. They asked MCC to step forward to assume their practices. Rather than forfeit essential services, MCC made the creative decision to become the employer of these well-respected geriatric (in 2010) and pediatric (in 2011) physicians. The only pediatrician on the coast today is at MCC’s pediatric clinic.
During the same timeframe, MCC staff and board of directors addressed the sensitive issue of the increased rates of teen pregnancies on the Coast. As a result of working out the partnership bugs with the local school districts, a teen clinic was launched to offer reproductive education and an array of confidential services. Now known as Blue Door@MCC, local youth and young adults may text to seek free, confidential, and non-judgemental sexual healthcare appointments. In addition, MCC staff has trained youth to be peer advocates and youth leaders in this highly successful outreach program. It is not a coincidence that there has since been an impressive 55 percent reduction of teen pregnancies in our service area. The Clinic’s motto to “see a need and fill it” continues to underpin its commitment to the community.
2011: Once again, MCC found itself bursting at the seams and in need of more space. Through the Affordable Care Act, MCC applied for and was awarded a 2.5 million dollar grant to expand services. The Liz Irwin Wing, dedicated in 2013, accommodates a larger Dental Clinic, a private-entrance Behavioral Health Clinic, and additional administrative office space. A big bonus is the large, fully-stocked kitchen and conference room, built to be used as a disaster relief facility. To more completely support local nonprofits, MCC’s conference rooms are made available at no charge. Over time, the conference room technology has been updated to allow for virtual, hybrid, and in-person meeting space.
2015: On June 24, in Washington, DC, it was announced by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) that Mendocino Coast Clinics had received its “Patient-Centered Medical Home” designation. This coveted recognition is awarded for using evidence-based, patient-centered processes that focus on highly coordinated care and long-term, participative relationships. Then-president of NCQA, Margaret E. O’Kane observed that “[This] recognition shows that Mendocino Coast Clinics has the tools, systems, and resources to provide its patients with the right care at the right time.”
2016: Changing of the guard. After more than twenty years at the helm, Paula Cohen retires. She was the first employee and the first Executive Director. By her side that entire time, Lucresha Renteria, one of the initial seven employees, worked her way from an interpreter to Chief Operating Officer. Paula spoke of the “enormous load” Lucresha managed during the early days, including reception and billing. MCC’s Board of Directors quickly approved Paula’s recommendation and Lucresha was promoted to the top position.
It is the policy of MCC management to offer training, education, and advancement from within the organization. Reception employment at Mendocino Coast Clinics is often the first “real” job for many local high school graduates. With improved skills and knowledge, these “home-grown” workers are routinely promoted and given increased responsibility. Lucresha is living proof. With one hundred twenty employees at seven clinics, MCC is a major Fort Bragg employer. Its generous benefit package includes medical/dental insurance, 401K match, and vacation and holiday paid time off.
2018-2019: With dollars raised during MCC’s annual Crab & Wine Days fundraiser, MCC opened the Family Wellness Center to provide parenting classes and support to young families, and launched its Street Medicine program. Then, within the year, MCC initiated a targeted clinic for the LGBTQ+ community through the Open Door@MCC Clinic.
“At Street Medicine, we can: check vital signs, schedule medical/dental
appointments at MCC, perform nurse assessments, wound care, and more!
If you know of anyone experiencing homelessness, or barriers to healthcare,
please let them know we are there to help.”
—Jill Koski, RN, BSN
2020: COVID. In mid-March, a mere few weeks after MCC’s most successful fundraiser ever, COVID arrived in Mendocino County. MCC paid attention, immediately became proactive, and identified how best to respond for the community’s welfare. By early April, MCC had erected a drive-up triage tent in the parking lot behind the clinic for staff to access and test patients while keeping them at a distance from the general population. Says Lucresha, “MCC worked to coordinate all testing, educational, and outreach efforts with the Public Health Department. Public Health alone could not provide the kind of care a county this large and geographically remote required. MCC and the other health centers worked to bring care to all corners of the county. Without the rural health clinics, Mendocino county’s infection and morbidity statistics would have looked much different.”
“Stand up for science.
Science is the antidote to the ignorance that promotes fear.”
—Lawrence Goldyn, MD, MCC Medical Director
Once the vaccines were released, MCC organized free mass vaccination clinics for patients and non-patients alike, the only health care provider on the Coast to do so. They set up drive-through clinics in large parking lots and at schools, walk-up clinics at the Fort Bragg Farmers’ Market, Harvest Market, and in Mendocino. MCC continues to offer the only free, daily, open-to-all COVID testing site.
Along with a generous monetary donation of gratitude, this note came from a non-patient of MCC: “Thanks so much for your continuing support of our community — and especially the COVID vaccines and testing.”
— PD, Little River
2022: Spurred with hope by the progress of vaccines and testing, MCC reached “Outside Our Walls” (the title of MCC’s 2022 fundraising campaign) to expand services at two new sites. MAT—Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid dependency, moved to an independent location. This provides free care to all who seek it in a non-judgmental and welcoming atmosphere—for patients and non-patients alike. MCC is the only local health center to deliver a Suboxone program with both peer counseling and behavioral health support integration.
MCC Goes to School! In conjunction with the Fort Bragg Unified School District, MCC services have expanded to the JD Center. Decorated with artwork by local students and FLOCKworks, the JD Center offers teens and young adults confidential reproductive health services, along with access to mental health support and counseling. This expansion of the Blue Door Clinic puts services right next door to the students in our Fort Bragg school district.
“You welcomed my son and cared for him when he really needed it.
Thank you for being such a caring and
nurturing organization.” —JM
2023: 100% !!! Yes, indeed — MCC earns a perfect score during the Operational Site Visit (OSV) following its federal site inspection! The requirements cover ninety-three different categories, ranging from providing sliding scale discounts, accessible language for non-English speakers, its board of directors’ composition and oversight, and a full range of required primary care services. In addition to those required services, MCC provides many of the eligible supplementary services. The review team was extremely impressed with its ability to meet the community’s needs. One examiner noted that in her thirty-year career, she had only seen one other health center receive a perfect score.
“I think of the Clinic often and with greatest gratitude. I was in a place of absolute desperation, and you treated me with loving care, which is something I will never forget.”— Tom N., Mendocino Coast
“You welcomed my son and cared for him when he really needed it! Thank you for being such a caring and nurturing organization”— Jane M., Mendocino County
“I was afraid of going to the doctor and getting shots. But the nice girls there helped me to be brave. Now I’m not afraid to go to the doctor anymore.”— A four-year-old patient, Fort Bragg
“I spoke with a long term patient today (Colette Van Der Heyden asked me to share her name with you all along with her feedback). She tells me that she really appreciates her MCC care team and, ‘I think it is a model for how a community clinic SHOULD be.’”
— Jennifer Salyer, RN, MSN, ND, Diabetic Educator, Sequoia Circle
“Yasmin is a great receptionist! She has the perfect personality for that job and makes you feel very welcome when you check in at Sequoia! Albert is fantastic, so knowledgeable and fast, my appointment was quick and painless!”
— Patient, Sequoia Circle
“Exceeded my expectations, every appointment I’ve had here always felt comfortable. Always well informed. Best staff.”
— Anonymous Patient, Mendocino Coast
“Dad had such an appreciation for MCC’s existence here in such an isolated location, that they are able to care for a wide range of patients in an accepting way. I know Dad chose MCC because he believed they could make good use of his contribution, and you have confirmed his hope. I can’t begin to thank you enough for this great honor, for thanking my dad.”— C. Furey, Mendocino Coast
“Bless this Organization of Amazing Humans. I truly appreciate what you provide to help all of the people in our community. We count on you!”— Marty McGee, Inglenook, Fort Bragg
“It is what a neighborhood clinic should be! Our donations are made as our heartfelt community service — and that is why Mendocino Coast Clinics is already named in our trust.”
— DW, retired physician
The timeline brings us to this point in the long, amazing trip that started so modestly three decades ago. The power of dedication to a vision followed up by hard work, foresight, inventiveness, and strategic decisions is evident in the success of every service and office Mendocino Coast Clinics has added for the community’s wellbeing. It is evident in the attitude and devotion of its employees, in the work culture, the competence, and the commitment to excellence that has driven this remarkable organization from the start.
February 3, 2024: MCC will host the thrilling, delicious, vibrant Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition—The celebration will return to the Big White Tent at the corner of Main & Spruce Streets in Fort Bragg. Locals look forward to this sparkling event all year, and visitors make it an annual family tradition and travel to the coast to support community health care.
The experience merits a lot of exclamation points! You are invited to:
Savor hand-made crab cakes from dozens of the coast’s finest restaurants—The competition is fierce and delicious! Sip Mendocino County wines from an array of premier wineries! Taste local specialty foods and beverages! Bid in the exciting LIVE Auction for get-away packages and collectible wines. Choose from local arts, gifts, and comestibles in the Silent Auction and Wine Auction! Donate to the Fund-the-Legacy Pledge Drive! Purchase tickets for the newly added raffle for six splendid nights on the Mendocino Coast! Join local chefs, wine makers, friends, visitors, and health providers you may know, as the entire community comes together in celebration, fun, high spirits, and serious fundraising that supports this extraordinary organization, which comes to the aid of over ten thousand coast patients every year.
At the festival, all COVID protocols will be followed.
Hey — We are a Health Center !!
Learn more with these online resources:
Mendocino Coast Clinics Main Website:
Event Coordinator, Tawny MacMillan:
“Visit Mendocino County” sponsors its winter festival
“Seafood & Sips Mendocino,” January 26–February 4, 2024.
The next “Crab & Wine Festival” fundraiser for Mendocino Coast Clinics is on
Saturday, February 3rd, 2024.
For Event Reservations + Supportive Donations, visit here: