20 health professionals from UC Davis Health and WellSpace Health gather near a podium to hear remarks from WellSpace Health CEO Jonathan Porteus

UC Davis Health boosts specialty care access for Medi-Cal patients

New partnership with WellSpace Health brings rheumatology care to medically underserved patients at Oak Park Community Health Center


Patients insured by Medi-Cal will have greater access to specialty care in Sacramento, thanks to a strategic partnership announced today between UC Davis Health and WellSpace Health.

Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health, stands at the podium and speaks into microphone, surrounded by several health professionals
Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health, announces partnership next to UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky

The partnership is the latest in a series of efforts by UC Davis Health to provide high-quality care to people who most need it and can least afford it.

The new program, called Specialty Connect, embeds UC Davis Health providers into WellSpace Health’s Oak Park Community Health Center where they’ll provide care to historically underserved populations.

The program was announced this morning by UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky and WellSpace Health CEO Jonathan Porteus at a news conference outside the clinic.

“UC Davis Health is proud to be part of this vital partnership with WellSpace Health aimed at overcoming health equity obstacles for underserved patients,” said UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky, who is also vice chancellor for human health sciences. 

“We’ve listened to patients, and we’ve learned they’d rather access their health care conveniently, in locations closer to home. This is how we increase access to specialty care. Our goal is to help people – no matter their circumstances – to lead healthy lives in the most accessible, advanced and convenient ways possible,” he added.

“Today we stand at the threshold of building the best specialty network ever offered to people covered by Medi-Cal in the Sacramento region,” said Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health. “When we align our mission with our partners, there is no limit to what we can do for those we serve.”

Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health
Today we stand at the threshold of building the best specialty network ever offered to people covered by Medi-Cal in the Sacramento region.” Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health

Specialty Connect launched earlier this month with a UC Davis Health rheumatologist. Planning is underway to bring additional specialty services in high demand by Medi-Cal patients. This may include pulmonology, gastroenterology, and pediatric subspecialties.

Medi-Cal beneficiaries usually have many choices for primary care doctors throughout California but struggle to find physicians for specialty care, due to low reimbursement rates.

UC Davis Health, however, has made a concerted effort in recent years to improve this access.

About a third of all patients at UC Davis Health facilities are Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

In addition, the health system offers its specialists to Medi-Cal patients at the medical center campus and clinics around the community. It also assigns providers to work in several Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) where tens of thousands of Sacramento’s Medi-Cal patients already receive care.

The FQHCs, such as Sacramento County’s Health Center, Elica Health and Sacramento Native American Health Center, are often located in neighborhoods convenient to patients or public transit.

UC Davis Health providers at the county’s health center come from internal medicine, family and community medicine, pediatrics and behavioral health departments, as well as from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. The School of Medicine also has training programs at the center for students and residents.

Specialty care provided to Medi-Cal patients at the Sacramento County Primary Care Center includes: 

  • Women’s health – including obstetrics
  • Rheumatology
  • Cardiology
  • Nephrology
  • Sports Medicine – musculoskeletal (non-operative)
  • Behavioral health (psychiatry)
  • Developmental behavioral pediatrics

The UC Davis Health and WellSpace Health partnership is supported by Sacramento’s Medi-Cal managed care health plans: Anthem Blue Cross, Molina Healthcare and Health Net; as well as participating Independent Physician Associations, including Nivano Physicians, Hill Physicians and Imperial Health.

This means any Medi-Cal patient belonging to the insurance plans as well as patients of any of seven FQHCs may be referred to Specialty Connect. In addition to WellSpace, the other six health centers are:

WellSpace Health is the area’s largest FQHC, which serves more than 1,400 patients a day at more than 30 centers across Sacramento, Placer and Amador counties.

Improving access to rheumatology care

Rheumatology is the first specialty care to be offered under the new program, in part because of its high demand from Medi-Cal patients.

Rheumatologists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that affect the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. These diseases can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and in some cases joint deformities. Medi-Cal patients seeking rheumatology care often have to wait for many weeks for treatment or travel long distances to see a doctor.

Rheumatologists also treat medical conditions such as arthritis and lupus, an inflammatory autoimmune disease that more often affects women and, disproportionally, Black women.

Thomas Abel is honored to have been selected as the UC Davis Health rheumatologist assigned to Specialty Connect at WellSpace Health.

“I believe we have a responsibility to deliver specialty care to the local community that is underserved and in need, and the collaboration with WellSpace Health provides this service,” Abel said. “As a rheumatologist, I am a specialist in medical conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory diseases that can affect many systems of the body.”

In addition to treating patients, Abel also will be available for consultations with primary care physicians who evaluate patients to determine whether they need specialty care.

“We’re talking about building subspecialty health care that is fully funded for the future for taking care of our members,” Lubarsky said at the partnership announcement. “It’s an amazing model.”