Ten years ago, when the last private practice physician traded a Cloverdale shingle for a Kaiser office, the small rural clinic known as Alexander Valley Healthcare became the only primary care provider between Healdsburg and Ukiah.
Since then, from this modest single story, T-shaped structure on the corner of South Cloverdale Boulevard and Tarman Drive, a small team of medical professionals has struggled to keep up with the demand, even as the state has pared back its health care funding.
But a new era is about to begin for this unique North Coast lifeline, putting it in the same league as the far larger Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, the Petaluma Health Center and the West County Health Centers.
This year, after 18 years as a rural health center, Alexander Valley Healthcare was declared a federally qualified health center, a crucial designation that comes with an enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. It also means hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal health care grants.
Since the Bush Administration, the federal government has poured billions of dollars into building up the nation's community clinic infrastructure.
Part of the Redwood Community Health Coalition, Alexander Valley Healthcare is the last of the coalition's qualifying community clinics to receive the federal status.
"We're not the orphan anymore," said Deborah Howell, Alexander Valley Healthcare's CEO, who becomes visibly giddy when thinking about the future of the clinic.
"It's huge," she said. "We can maintain health care in this community. Without this grant we might not have been able to stay open. That's how big this is."
The Cloverdale clinic became incorporated as a rural health center in 1995. When Howell joined the clinic 12 years ago, she said, there were five physicians practicing in town. The last one left in 2006.
Seven months ago, when Bertha Herndon and her husband moved to Cloverdale from Waterloo, Ill., she immediately began looking for a primary care doctor to help manage her diabetes. She has had the disease for 30 years and has an insulin pump that requires her to have frequent consultations with a doctor.