TURLOCK -- This city always has had a shortage of doctors, and the demand for physicians only intensified as its population swelled from 42,200 in 1990 to 69,300 last year.
Officials at Emanuel Medical Center say as many as 40 percent of the patients who come to the hospital's emergency room don't have a primary care physician, and most have conditions that could be treated in a doctor's office.
In October, the hospital opened the Emanuel Physician Center in an effort to start filling the need, and it has plans to operate more primary care centers in Turlock and other communities within 20 miles.
The first physician center, at 2121 Colorado Ave., next to Emanuel, is not owned by a medical group but is an outpatient department of the hospital, officials said. As of this week, the center was serving 15 to 17 patients per day, from infants to seniors. By summer, it could be serving twice as many.
Joani Griggs, director of the physician center program, said some of the patients hadn't seen a family doctor for years. Others couldn't find doctors who would take their insurance or were waiting weeks, or months, for appointments.
The primary care office accepts patients by appointment. It takes most private insurance and accepts patients enrolled in government programs such as Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Griggs said a consultant has given Emanuel advice on where to operate additional centers based on need.
A second center could be opened on Geer Road near California State University, Stanislaus. Other communities being considered for physician centers are Hughson, Patterson and Atwater, she said.
The hospital is shooting to open a new physician center every year. To do that, it will recruit 14 physicians in the next five years. A 2004 survey identified a need for 20 primary care physicians in the area served by Emanuel.
Specialists in demand
Emanuel already recognizes a need to recruit an obstetrician-gynecologist to provide care for expectant mothers at the Colorado Avenue center. It also plans to staff the offices with family practice doctors, internal medicine physicians and pediatricians.
Dr. Edmond Ghahramani, the program's first physician, came equipped to communicate with some of the ethnic residents living in Turlock. The native of Iran speaks Assyrian, Persian, Turkish and English.
He served as a doctor for the World Health Organization in Iran, overseeing a medical assistance operation and giving medical treatment to Kurdish refugees near the border with Iraq.
To practice medicine in the United States, he completed a family practice residency at Emanuel's sister hospital in Chicago and passed the board exams. He has been an assistant research physician for Cook County Hospital in Chicago, for Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich., and for Western Michigan University.
Raymond Khubiar, a patient from Turlock, said Monday that he's glad finally to have a doctor who speaks his language. He parted ways with his English-speaking doctor of 14 years to become a patient at the Emanuel center.
"He speaks Assyrian, and I speak Assyrian," Khubiar said of Ghahramani. "He understands me, and I understand him."
Ghahramani said some patients he has seen at the Turlock center are refugees who fled the war in Iraq and are now living in Turlock.
Other patients are Californians who recently relocated from the Bay Area or Los Angeles. The doctor said some adult patients who had not received regular checkups have come in with untreated diabetes or hypertension, he said.
"We have a lot of patients with medical needs," Ghahramani said. "It gives you a good feeling when you are taking care of them."
Emanuel Physician Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 2121 Colorado Ave. For appointments, call 664-5175.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2321.