UCLA Health’s Montecito primary and specialty care clinic on Coast Village Road.
UCLA Health, which opened a Montecito primary and specialty care clinic last summer, has plans to add more services on the Santa Barbara County South Coast later this year. (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk photo)

UCLA Health has been operating a Montecito primary and specialty care clinic since last summer, and plans to add more services on the Santa Barbara County South Coast later this year.

The clinic at 1187 Coast Village Road offers same-day sick appointments, newborn care, wellness-care for adults, well-woman care, coordination of care for patients with chronic medical conditions or multiple specialist physicians, routine and travel immunizations, onsite radiology, and onsite phlebotomy.

It brings a model of academic medicine into the community for UC Santa Barbara students, staff, and faculty, according to Adam Cavallero, the UCLA Health administrator overseeing clinic expansion on the South Coast.

The clinic is available to all patients, and Cavallero said he hopes it can be used as a resource for UCSB biology or pre-medical students, as well as professors with related research, to see how the academic medicine model works.

“A big push for us was to support UCSB. All of our physicians are also educators, so this clinic brings an educational flavor of medicine to Santa Barbara so that students and faculty can see how academic medicine works, observe us, and be patients of ours,” Cavallero told Noozhawk. “We were able to bring the expertise to Santa Barbara that was really only available in large urban settings.”

All of the physicians at the clinic live in the community where they work, Cavallero said.

Expanding into the Santa Barbara area was always a goal for UCLA Health, and the pandemic did not slow down expansion efforts, according to Cavallero.

“Because we’re UCLA, we have the ability and the tools to pivot and rotate on a dime,” he said.

“We came into this community to open arms, we were able to provide an outlet for these patients that had to wait so long just to schedule a doctor’s appointment,” he continued. “I think the walk-in capacity that the clinic has gives patients a unique opportunity to see a doctor when they actually need it.”

UCLA Health also opened up a cancer center in Santa Barbara, at 309 W. Quinto St., and plans to open another primary care location in Goleta this fall, Cavallero said.

“I don’t view our arrival as competition to other healthcare providers in the area,” he said. “I view it as a collaboration in which we can bring something different to the table. I’m very in touch with what the community wants, I’m not just some guy from Los Angeles trying to bring medicine into Santa Barbara.”

The UCLA Health clinic joins a growing number of clinics with same-day appointments in the county, and coincides with the efforts of local hospital systems opening new urgent care clinics across the region. 

Many new urgent care clinics opened in the past year, as the novel coronavirus pandemic was creating higher demand for them.

Cottage Health opened a series of Cottage Urgent Care centers across the region in the past year, knowing that access to care is a priority in preventing minor issues from becoming more serious health concerns, said Maria Zate, spokeswoman for Cottage.

Ten have opened since early 2020, including locations in Goleta, Buellton, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Oxnard and Camarillo. 

“The centers fill an important need for communities to have urgent but non-emergent care during extended hours, in convenient and comfortable storefront locations,” Zate told Noozhawk. “Patients can walk in with no appointment and quickly receive care or an appointment referral, helping to connect patients to local primary care physicians and specialists for follow-up and preventative care to improve overall health.”

At the beginning of 2019, Lompoc Valley Medical Center acquired the Lompoc location of Sansum Medical Group, which included a same-day appointment center and seven primary care providers, said Steve Popkin, CEO of Lompoc Valley Medical Center.

The growing number of people who use urgent care clinics stems from the lack of primary care doctors and the desire to divert people from emergency rooms, Popkin told Noozhawk.

“Often individuals have situations that they need or want to be addressed immediately, but the situation is not at a level of acuity that requires the more intensive, costly, and time-consuming services of an emergency room,” he said.

The Cottage Health and Lompoc Valley Medical Center urgent care centers are open seven days a week to both appointments and walk-in visitors.

“Rather than having to deal with 30 individual provider practices, through the urgent care center we were able to create centralized policies and procedures, retrofit the space, train designated staff, manage infection control practices, manage personal protection equipment use and supply, and serve all patients of Lompoc Health and other community members,” Popkin said.

While Zate said that Cottage encourages everyone to have a primary care physician, the urgent care clinics help to meet care needs when access is not possible for low-acuity health care issues.

“Our storefront locations, easy transportation access and parking, extended hours seven days a week and 365 days a year, walk-ins welcome, online appointments available if preferred, and low wait times all make access to care extremely convenient at Cottage Urgent Care centers, reaching people near where they live and shop,” Zate said.

“It’s an option that helps people get care when and where they need it, and also serves to help identify health issues early and create a bridge to any additional care needed from a primary care or specialty care physician, to help protect overall health.”

The pandemic shifted the need for urgent care services and urgent care volumes, Zate said, adding that the demand for COVID-19 testing has been high ever since Cottage Urgent Care clinics started offering rapid COVID-19 tests at the end of 2020.

COVID-19 testing continues to account for approximately 25% of total visits, according to Zate.

Lompoc Valley Medical Center’s urgent care facility has been a focal point for COVID-19 testing as well, Popkin said.

The most common conditions treated at both Lompoc Valley Medical Center and Cottage Health urgent care centers are COVID-19 assessment and testing, upper-respiratory conditions, pain control, orthopedic issues, minor lacerations and other minor procedures, according to Zate and Popkin. 

Cottage Health, Sansum Clinics, Dignity Health, Lompoc Valley Medical Center, and The MedCenter operate urgent care clinics across the county.

Dignity Health opened an urgent care and primary care clinic in Solvang last July, and has other locations in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Lompoc, Atascadero and Pismo Beach. Dignity Health owns Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at jmartinez-pogue@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.