Celebrating 50 Years: La Union Hace La Fuerza

Today, no other place is as synonymous with innovation as Silicon Valley. The region is home to the most influential and successful tech companies in the world. Their impact is felt at work, at home, and in our social lives. The same could be said of community organizations, such as Gardner Health Services (GHS) in San Jose, CA.  The story of GHS is just as innovative, impactful, and dramatic as the history of any tech company we may have read about on our social media feeds. The organization has evolved and grown, not for the benefit of stockholders or investors, but for more important people – the organization’s patients.
The first iteration of GHS was founded fifty years ago in the small community of Alviso. Given the complete lack of health services for pockets of immigrants and low-income residents in the County of Santa Clara, the Alviso clinic began to grow, eventually expanding to 3 other sites in the region. In the nearby neighborhood of Gardner, a clinic was also founded, which equally found footing in a low-income, immigrant community. Over the course of three decades, the organizations responded and adapted to similar calls for healthcare. In the case of Alviso, the response was to expand. Gardner, however, focused more on behavioral health, and created a mental health program, Centro de Bienestar. The two organizations were at one point in competition for patients and funding, but would eventually combine their efforts for the benefit of the community and their longevity.
In 1995, Gardner Health Center (GHC) welcomed two leaders to the organization, Reymundo Espinoza and Efrain Coria. Mr. Espinoza had previously served as the executive leader of both the Gardner and Alviso health organizations. Mr. Coria joined GHC as the Chief Operating Officer. Under their leadership, GHC grew to a $5 million operation, with $500,000 in reserve, and serving a patient population of 7,545. The focus of GHC’s efforts were in behavioral health, which were considerably larger than its primary health care component. The organization began looking to expand its primary care services and also to ensure its long-term survival.
Across town, the Family Health Foundation of Alviso (FHFA) was operating a $16 million budget and serving 16,305 patients, but was over $2 million in debt and incurring losses. The administration at the time was having difficulty meeting mortgage and payroll costs. The foundation’s funders, and subsequently the state, county and city, became involved in the organization’s welfare. A new management team and board of directors were chosen to direct the organization through its financial troubles.
A Request for Proposal was issued by the government agencies involved for another organization to take over the FHFA. GHC was approached by the County of Santa Clara and the federal government to apply, considering GHC’s stability and similar patient population. However, there were serious barriers standing in the way of GHC absorbing the foundation. First, the foundation was 3 times the size of GHC, and had multiple sites to manage. Second, the FHFA was over $2 million in debt, and GHC only had $500,000 on hand.
At the time, Mr. Coria was commuting from Hollister to San Jose. While driving home one day, Mr. Coria drove off to the side of the road when he had an epiphany. The revelation was how GHC could take over the Alviso Foundation but maintain two separate corporations, a parent-subsidiary model for organizational management. Mr. Espinoza and Mr. Coria were able to convince all parties involved that this was the strategy to take and were allowed to proceed.
In 1997, GHC and the FHFA combined to form Gardner Health Services, but maintained two distinct corporations. Instead of eliminating any programs, GHC replaced the administration for the foundation. Both corporations remained non-profit, community-based clinics, governed by one board of directors and one management team. The primary medical care branch became Gardner Family Health Network, Inc., meanwhile behavioral care, and substance abuse services fell under the Gardner Family Care Corporation. By keeping them separate, Gardner received an infusion of money, leveraging reimbursement methodologies to increase revenue by $800,000 per year.
Following the union of the two organizations, Gardner Health Services rebounded strongly and the budget grew to $21 million. The organization owes its success to the innovative thinking and leadership that Mr. Coria and Mr. Espinoza showed during this critical transition. Today, the organization manages a budget of over $60 million and serves over 55,000 patients a year.
Content curated by Antonio Nunez, Jr.