CenCal Health, the publicly-sponsored health plan for Medi-Cal in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, has announced it will initiate a variety of measures to ensure smooth operations, continuation of service for members and providers, and protect staff.

These actions come in response to a rapidly changing business environment due to the coronavirus, ongoing guidance from county and state officials, as well as school closings.

As a public health measure, CenCal Health will implement social distancing through staggered worktimes, teleworking for most employees, and closing its offices to visitors. This employees-first policy is effective as of Wednesday, March 18.

CenCal Health employs more than 250 people at two offices in Santa Barbara and one in San Luis Obispo, and serves some 170,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries in its two-county service area along the Central Coast.

“As a local health plan with the mission to improve the health and well-being of our community, we decided to make this social-distancing move for both workplace safety and public health,” said Bob Freeman, CenCal Health CEO. “All departments are operating to serve our members and providers.

“Because this is an unprecedented situation, our teleworking technology may not be as responsive as business-as-usual, so in that case, we ask that callers have patience with the possibility of increased phone hold times.”

Next week, CenCal Health will send a newsletter to all plan members with information on how to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus, and to reassure them that testing and treatment for COVID-19 are covered Medi-Cal benefits.

The newsletter includes links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and to both counties’ public health agencies. Communication is also going out to physicians and other health providers on changes in CenCal Health operational practices during this outbreak.

The local health agency has been planning since mid-January for the possibility of disruption in its business operations due to person-to-person virus transmission and school closures.

CenCal Health is a community-accountable health plan that partners with moe than 1,500 local physicians, hospitals and other providers in delivering patient care to some 170,000 members; about one in four residents of Santa Barbara County and one in five residents of San Luis Obispo County.

CenCal Health recently released its 2019 Community Report in both Spanish and English. It is available from its website cencalhealth.org or directly at cencal2019.org.