‘Old-school’ doc targets decades of service at Merced’s most vulnerable


Dr. Sandoval has served Merced community for 35 years
He shares bond with field workers, homeless and elderly
He’s one of few area doctors who still makes house calls
Deretha Jones, 46, of Merced speaks with Dr. Salvador Sandoval at the Golden Valley Health Centers’ mobile health clinic outside the East 15th Street homeless shelter in Merced, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Jones, currently homeless, has been staying at the shelter. Sandoval is known in the community for his years spent working with the homeless and migrant workers. Photo By Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsunstar.com
The words in Spanish atop Dr. Salvador Sandoval’s business cards are simple, but the message is profound: “An old-fashioned doctor, but with modern practices.”
Sandoval’s old-school work ethic has led him to take his up-to-date techniques and equipment out to those in need, just like doctors of long ago who made house calls.
The 65-year-old physician operates the Medical Outreach Mobile, better known as the MOM mobile, run by Golden Valley Health Centers.
On Tuesdays, he spends the first half of his day seeing homeless patients out of the mobile clinic stationed outside the D Street Shelter in Merced.
He offers basic medical checkups, but also has picked up psychiatric skills by necessity.
“(The homeless) population has a higher percentage of mental health problems. Many of them get diagnosed here (at the mobile clinic),” he said, noting ADHD, bipolar disorder and depression as some of the most common issues.
Sandoval volunteered to operate MOM because of his interest in reaching out to the homeless. “I just didn’t know if anyone else would do it, and (the homeless are) a population that needs services,” Sandoval said.
Most of Sandoval’s 40-year career has been spent with GVHC, with his work focused on serving Merced’s most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, the elderly and migrant field workers. He is one of the few doctors in Merced County who still makes home visits.
I met Sandoval last week at the Binational Health Week kickoff event in Merced, where he was invited to speak about his work with the underserved.
His stories reflected decades of community service, and his subtle humor hinted as to why he’s become a patient favorite.
Sandoval, a Sacramento native and longtime Merced resident, sees patients out of the GVHC office in Planada. He is well-known for his work with migrant farmworkers, whom he occasionally visits at camps in Planada, Atwater and Livingston.
Sandoval believes he has a special connection with field laborers. Growing up, he worked in the fields, earning 15 cents for each bucket of tomatoes he picked. He understands the health concerns that arise from such intensive labor and empathizes with their limited access to medical services.
Juan Villa, a social worker and homeless program coordinator with GVHC, is on-site at MOM on Tuesdays. He helps patients start the enrollment process for health coverage and connects them with other basic resources.
Villa has worked alongside Sandoval at the MOM mobile for about four years. In this time, the duo have seen hundreds of homeless patients. Some, chronically homeless, and others who were able to jump back on their feet after a stint on the streets.
The success of the mobile clinic, Villa believes, is due partly to Sandoval’s magnetism. The doctor makes patients feel comfortable and welcomed to return, he said.

Juan Villa, homeless program coordinator with Golden Valley Health Centers

Deretha Jones, 46, of Merced visited Sandoval at the mobile clinic on Tuesday. She shared that she’s been homeless, bouncing from house to house, for about four months. She spent Monday night at the D Street Shelter.
A few weeks ago, she had her glasses stolen. She has wanted to have her eyes checked for some time, she said, but when you’re busy worrying about where you will sleep and what you will eat, medical attention becomes a secondary concern.
“I don’t have insurance, and I can’t afford a co-pay,” Jones said. “This is my chance.”
It’s people like Jones who need doctors like Sandoval the most.
The veteran physician knows this. He’s postponed retirement because he fears that many of his patients will be without a doctor once he hangs up his stethoscope.
“There’s a little bit of a crunch right now because we simply don’t have enough providers,” Sandoval said. Every time he starts considering retirement, his patients come to mind, especially those whom he’s known for years and whom he visits at home.
Most of his at-home patients are elderly and unable to get to a doctor’s office on their own. But he also sees children. His youngest patient is a 10-year-old who is constrained to a respirator and a feeding tube. His oldest patient is 107.
“There’s no other way they can get the care without being institutionalized,” Sandoval said. “So it’ll probably be another while before I retire.”
But even then, he’ll probably still continue to do home visits, he said.
“That’s just what I do.”
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