The San Diego Union-Tribune: West Health Opens New PACE Center in North County

The new Gary and Mary West PACE program that recently opened in San Marcos hopes to go even further. In addition to providing the first-ever such service to North County residents, they also will conduct research that could help prove what works best when caring for those with significant medical needs.

“We’re looking to define the gold standard of PACE,” said Tim Lash, West Health’s chief strategy officer.

Short for Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, PACE centers serve those age 55 and older whose medical conditions qualify them for care in a nursing home. Participants must elect to have a PACE program take over their entire scope of care, from in-home services to doctor visits and prescription drugs.

By coordinating services around a physical location near where participants live, programs manage to keep more than 90 percent of their clients living at home, rather than in institutional settings.

St. Paul’s PACE, operating in the southern and eastern parts of San Diego County, has pioneered the model in the region but, until now, no similar resource has existed in North County.

The newly-renovated facility at 1706 Descanso Ave. in San Marcos, which had a soft opening in early September and a grand opening on Thursday, occupies a nearly 20,000-square-foot, single-story building that formerly housed a Department of Motor Vehicles office just south of state Route 78.

Today, the long counters, long lines and “now serving” signs are gone, replaced with enough elegantly-appointed tables, chairs and casual seating to comfortably serve up to 150 people at a time.

Branching off from the central area where visitors can sit and chat, play games, eat healthy meals or just relax is a full primary care clinic staffed with a full-time medical team, a full dental clinic complete with colorful floor-to-ceiling murals and an expansive physical therapy studio. There’s also private space for mental health consultations, a “spa” where haircuts happen and an outdoor patio for gardening and fresh air. All of the spaces have the upscale look and feel that has become synonymous with West projects throughout San Diego County.

Rena Smith, the facility’s executive director, said the program can support up to 500 clients at full capacity. So far, only about a dozen clients have signed up as the operation gets up and running, but Smith said she expects that number to jump significantly once word gets out that the facility is online.

For those who do agree to participate, the program directly bills Medicare and/or Medi-Cal for all services. It’s actually not up to the center alone whether or not it can take on a new client.

“We have to get approval from the State of California because the state has to certify that each of our clients has a nursing home need,” Smith said.

While it does provide meals and oversight by trained staff, the center is not an adult daycare. Clients come in for specific services several times per week, but can’t drop by just to hang out.

Standing in the facility’s spacious primary care clinic on a recent morning, Dr. Ross Colt, the facility’s medical director, said the power of the PACE model is in its coordination, allowing physical therapists, physicians, nutritionists, and others to develop a specific care plan for each client that drives when they come in for checkups and what home health aides do when they visit homes.