NEVADA CITY, CA February 22, 2022 – This month marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Sierra Family Health Center by Peter Van Houten, MD.
What started as a small practice with two physicians and two nurse practitioners in North San Juan is now a federally licensed health center with three locations providing more than 25,000 patient visits each year.
The story of the clinic’s origin and substantial growth still surprises Van Houten today. After moving to Ananda Village in 1980 after completing his medical residency, Van Houten began a private practice in Nevada City. However, he soon noticed that no health services were available in his new community of North San Juan.
In response, Van Houten opened a part-time clinic to serve his neighbors in The Ridge. “On the first day, I saw 10 patients and realized that the region badly needed a full-time clinic,” says Van Houten. “I never looked back.”
He would open Sierra Family Medical Center on February 1, 1982, working in a small rental unit and trailer. In 1997 he oversaw the construction of its current facility on Tyler Foote Road.
Today, the clinic serves 5,000 patients each year for their medical, dental, behavioral health, and chiropractic care needs in Nevada and Yuba counties. SFHC became a federally licensed health center in 2016.
The past four decades in healthcare haven’t always been easy, Van Houten shares. “Rural health centers like ours are now considered a key part of health care in the United States, but when we started in 1982, we didn’t fit the private practice medical model at all.”
It turned out that the clinic was aligned with the future of medicine. “Providing medical care close to where patients live and making it easier to access has allowed us to become a key social hub in the community,” Van Houten shares.
SFHC has since added an additional health center in Oregon House and a clinic in Nevada City to provide behavioral health services.
Of all the clinic’s accomplishments, Van Houten is most proud of the early integration of behavioral health into primary care.
“In the 1990s, I realized how much a patient’s mental health status affected their healthcare, especially in an underserved population like ours,” says Van Houten. “Before it was the norm, we developed an integrated healthcare model with behavioral health, medical and dental treatments all in one place.”
When he discovered that some patients’ physical symptoms were unresponsive to drug treatment and standard treatments, Van Houten began to apply his advanced training in psychiatry to patient care. He then integrated therapists into medical practice.
Today, all medical providers at Sierra Family Health Center have advanced training in psychiatry for primary care medicine.
In addition, Van Houten has developed an interactive approach to care delivery based on three pillars: caring, integrity and transparency. He teaches this approach in health establishments.
“Our approach offers a way of being with each patient that includes authentic listening, connection, empathy, curiosity and collaboration. We work with our patients to understand their needs and goals, so we know how to best serve them,” says Van Houten. Health center staff will celebrate the 40and Anniversary later this year with an outdoor gathering for friends, family, patients and neighbors. Visit sierraclinic.org or call 530-292-3478 for more information or to find out how to become a patient.