By Sarah Beauchemin

One of our nation’s most pressing concerns is ensuring that our underserved communities have access to affordable, quality healthcare. This is also one of the top priorities at Bastyr University, which is leading the effort to deliver top-quality holistic healthcare to such communities here in San Diego County.

Founded in 1978 in Seattle, Bastyr has transformed the health and well-being of millions of people by serving as the world’s premier naturopathic university, research institution, and health clinic open to the public.

Bastyr expanded to San Diego in 2012, opening a campus in Sorrento Valley which includes the Bastyr University Clinic – a holistic healthcare facility offering comprehensive family healthcare to all of San Diego.

But in order to offer the same high-quality holistic healthcare to San Diego’s underrepresented communities, Bastyr University California opened an external clinic program at El Cajon’s EJE Academies Charter School in 2015.

EJE (pronounced “ay-hay”) serves over 700 students and is the only K-8 Dual Language Independent Charter School in East County. It is also one of the highest performing schools in the District that serve lower income children and English Language Learning students.

Bastyr’s EJE Clinic applies the principles of natural medicine which offers a proactive, preventative approach to healthcare focused on the whole student as well as their families. There, under the supervision of Bastyr clinical faculty, the university’s advanced naturopathic medicine students provide free healthcare services to EJE’s students and their families.

Photo courtesy of Bastyr University
Photo courtesy of Bastyr University

Growing The EJE Clinic Maximizes Community Assistance

The important work of Bastyr’s EJE Clinic has caught the attention of local funders. This past spring, Alliance Healthcare Foundation (AHF) – whose grant-making activities focus on strategically funding organizations whose programs benefit the poor, uninsured and underinsured children, and the homeless – awarded Bastyr a $29,000 grant that will allow the EJE Clinic to double its capacity.

Beginning in September 2017, the EJE Clinic – currently open Tuesdays from 3pm to 7pm – will also be open on Thursdays during the same hours.

California State Senator Joel Anderson, who represents El Cajon in the California Legislature, presented Senate Certificates of Recognition to AHF, EJE Academy, and Bastyr University in honor of their innovative partnership and significant expansion of their services, praising their creative union that will greatly help underserved communities across the County.

“The EJE Clinic expansion is a big deal,” said Dr. Ryan McNally, Chief Medical Officer at Bastyr University Clinic, where he teaches students as well as facilitates activities at outside community clinics, including EJE.

“It’s a huge step in growing the much-needed presence of natural health clinics in diverse communities,” he continued. “We’re able to show our patients how a holistic approach to healthcare – such as the connection between lifestyle and illness – can greatly enhance overall health and well-being.”

Photo courtesy of Bastyr University
Photo courtesy of Bastyr University

Affordable and Effective Holistic Healthcare

But McNally adds that the key to helping low-income families through natural medicine is to ensure that the proposed solutions are affordable and relatively easy to implement.

“Since our patients at EJE are very low-income, we find creative ways to solve their health concerns,” said Dr. Sunshine Weeks, faculty member at Bastyr University Clinic and EJE Clinic Supervisor.

“They’re not able to just go to the market and buy specific items,” she explained. “So we focus on the importance of diet and lifestyle changes; very inexpensive things like swapping soda for water and taking walks and getting enough sunlight.”

While these suggestions may sound relatively minor, Weeks says the results they produce with patients at the EJE Clinic are tremendous. “In low-income communities, we often see a lack of the educational foundations of health and well-being,” she said. “This is why most of what we do is centered around diet and lifestyle recommendations that are specifically tailored to each individual’s unique needs and circumstances.”

In addition to these recommendations, the clinic also uses natural medicine to effectively treat a wide array of specific health concerns. “By prescribing free or low-cost herbal medicine, we’ve successfully treated patients for ADD and ADHD, depression, Autism spectrum disorders, asthma, diabetes, and digestive disorders, just to name a few,” said Weeks. “Our clinicians also see many students who suffer from school-related anxiety and bullying issues, and we work with the school’s social workers and counselors to integrate care.”

To be sure, the EJE Clinic’s expansion will allow for an essential part of San Diego’s natural health sector to continue to flourish and help many more people in need. “Without collaborations like this one between AHF and Bastyr, the future definitely wouldn’t be as bright for EJE’s students and their families,” said Weeks. “It’s an honor to be part of it.”

Sarah Beauchemin writes for Voice of San Diego’s Partner Voices and is a freelance writer and content strategist for nonprofits, small businesses and...

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