Quick Take:

Dientes and Santa Cruz Community Health will both open their fourth county locations this fall, this a joint one on Capitola Road near 17th Avenue. The aim: to serve the underinsured, uninsured and homeless.

This fall, low-income and uninsured Santa Cruz County residents will be able to have their medical and dental needs taken care of all in one Live Oak location, currently under construction at 1500 Capitola Road near 17th Avenue.

During a site visit Thursday, Dientes Community Dental chief development officer Sheree Storm and general contractor Jared Bogaard showed Lookout the development’s progress. The tour centered on both a Dientes clinic and Santa Cruz Community Health facility, which together will serve about 10,000 residents annually. With the pandemic putting a halt on construction efforts, the project delayed its groundbreaking by a full year. It is now scheduled to open in the fall.

This month marks the completion of a major fundraising effort by both programs’ directors, Dientes CEO Laura Marcus and Santa Cruz Community Health CEO Leslie Conner. The project cost about $28 million — $8.6 million for dentistry and $19.2 million for community health. A $1 million congressional appropriation, shepherded by U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, sealed the deal.

The one-story, 5,500-square-foot Dientes clinic is already in its painting stages, and the two-story, 20,000-square-foot SCCH facility is putting up walls and insulation.

Dientes focuses on providing affordable dental care, with an emphasis on prevention, for low-income children, adults and seniors countywide. The new clinic — the fourth in the county — will include an 11-chair dental clinic for low-income patients. Its goal is to serve up to 73 per day, with specialty services including endodontics, oral surgery and specialty pediatric care.

The new Dientes clinic in Live Oak, seen from the inside of the forthcoming Santa Cruz Community Health facility. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

SCCH provides comprehensive primary care services in English and Spanish to all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and sexual identities and orientations, regardless of their ability to pay. This SCCH facility — also the fourth in the county — includes pediatrics and family practices, as well as behavioral health specialists.

The site will also feature a community plaza, a pharmacy and a nod to former site resident Robert Merriman (who is believed to be the inspiration for a character in Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”).

“The special thing about the relationship between the two organizations here is that we are here to serve the Santa Cruz community in partnership,” Storm said.

A rendering of the project at 1500 Capitola Rd. in Live Oak.
A rendering of the project at 1500 Capitola Rd. in Live Oak. Credit: Via 1500capitolaroad.org

Based on the Dientes health assessment from 2016, at least 80,000 individuals are eligible for the low-income services countywide. Of those, Storm said that only 25,000 have adequate access to coverage. That makes a site like this — along the major corridors of Capitola Road and 17th Avenue — all the more necessary for low-income and uninsured Santa Cruzans, particularly within the local school system. In the Live Oak School District itself, an estimated 13 to 26% of students are homeless and without these medical supports.

“You couldn’t be more centrally located to the people who need these services,” Storm said.

Marcus said the addition of the two clinics will help to expand both access to low-income health services in the community, with Dientes serving 50,000 county residents since it launched 30 years ago.

“There are so many examples of clients we serve — people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, single-parent families,” she said. “There are so many diseases where you have worse outcomes if you have poor oral health.”

In building in this specific location, Marcus believes the combination of the two clinics, the community spaces, and the affordable housing units will make a “great impact” on the neighborhood.

“There are just so many things that we feel can bring the community together,” she said. “A real true community spirit comes from there being more equity — this project is a perfect example of being able to get all your needs met in one location.”

Grace comes to Lookout from just over the hill, originally from Sunnyvale but with a variety of journalism experience from across the country.After doing her undergrad at Seattle University, Grace earned...