Barry Schoer and Chuck Fenzi both started their medical careers working as psychiatric technicians, Schoer in New York City’s iconic Bellevue and Fenzi in a small hospital in Tucson. Now, roughly 40 years later, these two medical professionals have teamed up to create Santa Barbara’s first street clinic targeting medical and dental care for individuals dealing with serious mental illnesses and substance abuse issues. “These people die 28 years sooner than they should,” said Fenzi, CEO of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
Schoer, who provides housing and treatment for the mentally ill through the Sanctuary Centers, said he’s spent the last 10 years trying to get an integrated care clinic up and operating. Schoer said he often hears his clients complain of being told, “It’s all in your head” or “Go see your psychiatrist,” by medical professionals flummoxed by the challenges of providing basic medical care for the mentally ill. Dental care, Schoer went on, is almost worse. “We have people here with their teeth rotting out of their head,” he exclaimed.
This summer, Schoer and Fenzi managed to see 150 medical patients and a couple hundred dental patients. The offices are small, only big enough for one dentist, one doctor, and one mental-health professional. The clinic has been treating patients referred to it by the Veterans Court and the city’s restorative policing program, among others. It helped at least three residents of the nearby Garden Court senior care facility who had fallen down and would otherwise have required ambulance rides to the Cottage ER. “Nobody gets turned away,” Schoer said.
Schoer said plans are already in place to triple the size of the clinic and to build a new 40-unit apartment complex on-site for Sanctuary Center residents. That, he estimated, will cost up to $10 million, about a third of which has already been raised.