Dr. Arteaga: Never Turns Patients Away If They Can't Pay
(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) “For the 20-plus years I have been in practice, we have never turned away a patient because they couldn’t pay,” Dr. Albert Arteaga of LaSalle Medical Associates says. “As the son of an Adventist minister, I know I have an obligation to help whenever I can.”
And help he does, from aiding Inland Empire Hurricane Katrina survivors to outwardly welcoming low income, elderly and disabled Medi-Cal patients. It’s been pointed out that many physicians refuse to see Medi-Cal patients simply because doctors make vary little money doing so. “For us at LaSalle, it’s one more chance to give back to our communities, helping people who are reluctant to seek medical attention because they fear they just can’t afford it. Ultimately, though, it’s the children who would suffer. And I don’t want that,” Arteaga says.
As founder and CEO of LaSalle’s five Inland Empire clinics, Dr. Arteaga set out to not just aid those in need, but to change patients’ perception of “going to the doctor.” He explains, “I want everyone to feel that going to the doctor is no more intimidating than going to the grocery store.”
Another of Arteaga’s major objectives is that every single patient is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their station in life. A recent survey of nearly 300 LaSalle patients showed that fully 100% of those surveyed said, “The physician listened carefully, explained things to me and was respectful.” And this feeling goes beyond the doctor in question, extending to the entire staffs at all the LaSalle clinics with 98% of the patients noting, “The LaSalle staff was very courteous and respectful.”
As any businessperson knows, however, to continue helping people, the company has to keep its doors open, to be profitable. And, in spite of focusing on the uninsured and low-income patients, LaSalle does just fine. “Our goal is to keep our expenses low while providing everyone high quality health care,” Dr. Arteaga said. “It is a challenge, but I have found this approach to be successful. The customers who can pay do so, and it more offsets those who can’t.”
Born in San Diego of a Seventh-day Adventist missionary father from Michoacan, Mexico, Arteaga says, “As the son of an Adventist minister, I know I have an obligation to help whenever I can. That is what we do.” He came by his love of, and cares for, people honestly. It was natural that the young man took to medical training and completed his degree from Universidad LaSalle in Mexico City. His graduation in 1976 was followed by four years of general practice. Following of his internship at Loma Linda University Medical Center he opened practice in Fontana in 1984.
The practice expanded, doctors and staff were added to efficiently serve the growing patient load. Soon enough, LaSalle Medical Associates, formed in 1996, added two clinics in San Bernardino, one in Hesperia and another in Lake Elsinore. Today, the LaSalle staff totals 115 employees with 13 physicians, two physician assistants and a nurse practitioner. In 2007, the LaSalle clinics welcomed 108,061 patient visits.
While initially focusing on serving children of the lower income and disabled, Arteaga then realized there were even greater community needs. With his guidance, LaSalle expanded its service to include family and internal medicine, and obstetrics/gynecology. All stemming from Arteaga’s “obligation to help whenever I can.”
Preventive healthcare is another of the LaSalle objectives. “Prevention is so much easier for patients than healing later problems,” Arteaga says.
His free Immunization Fairs are an example. For more than seven years the clinics have offered these for Inland Empire children. He adds, “Our objective with these fairs, and so many of our other 150 or so community programs (three times more than in the Los Angeles area), is to help parents understand how to keep their children well in the first place.”
How often have any of us made a doctor appointment, showed up right on time if not early – and then waited an hour. Another of Dr. Arteaga’s pet peeves: “How long will I have to wait” is the first question most people ask, Arteaga points out. “Everyone’s time is valuable to them,” he says, “and sitting what may seem endlessly in a waiting room is not what they had in mind. Respectful care includes respecting our patients’ time.”
But, sometimes it just can’t be helped. LaSalle welcomes walk-in patients at all five clinics, but sometimes that simply means things can get backed up. “We may get an emergency,” Arteaga explains, “or someone comes in much sicker than they led us to believe on the phone. A mother, on the other hand, may have arranged to bring in a child, but showed up with three who needed to be seen. Another may have arranged for a basic immunization for her daughter only to arrive with paperwork from the school for an entire physical.” He adds, “We want patients to be on their way as quickly as possible, of course. But first, we want to get it right, get it pleasant, and then get it fast. People understand that things come up unexpectedly, as long as you let them know what’s up. If you level with them, they’ll level with you.”
Life is not without its snags, however. In the case of medical practices accepting Medicare patients, the proposed 10% reduction in government medical payment is attention getting to most providers. For LaSalle, however, it’s not time for hand wringing. “Because of our organization’s structure,” explains Dr. Arteaga, “we can take more patients, if Medicare allows us to, to make up for the repayment reduction, and if we continue to increase our patient retention, we’ll have additional patient visits that will offset any reduction in Medicare payments.”
Public and professional recognition has not escaped LaSalle Medical Associates and Dr. Arteaga. In his efforts to provide healthcare services to the Inland Empire’s children, Arteaga was awarded the San Bernardino County Medical Society’s Merlin Hendrickson M.D. Award for his outstanding contribution to the community.
And the clinics were selected by the Inland Empire Health Plan as Riverside’s and San Bernardino’s best healthcare provider, while the African American Health Initiative selected LaSalle as a “model provider” of Black healthcare in San Bernardino County The San Bernardino Board of Supervisors has presented Dr. Arteaga the Resolution Award for his outstanding community efforts, and the Inland Empire Health Plan awarded LaSalle Medical Associates a Proclamation Award in appreciation of outstanding community work and for being the state’s number one enroller of the Healthy Families program, an insurance plan for children of low- to middle-income families.
“These awards,” he says, “are not just for me, but for the entire team of doctors, nurses and staff at LaSalle’s clinics. These are recognition of the entire company’s dedication to our patients and our communities we serve.”
Dr. Arteaga lives in Grand Terrace with his wife, Maria, his son and his two daughters.
The LaSalle medical clinics are at 17577 Arrow Blvd. in Fontana, 1505 West 17th St. and 565 N. Mt. Vernon Ave. in San Bernardino, 16455 Main St. in Hesperia and in Lake Elsinore at 31762 Mission Trail.
For additional information about LaSalle Medical Associates, call (909) 8
90-0407 or go on line to lasallemedical.com.
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