While many who call Big Sur home love the area’s remoteness, they’re still happy they don’t have to travel far for primary health care. The Big Sur Health Center was established in 1979 so those in the rural community would have easy access to health care professionals. As the only medical facility for a 100-mile stretch of coast from the Monterey Peninsula to Cambria, the Big Sur Health Center has become a vital part of the hamlet’s tight-knit community.
“They take care of all of us in Big Sur,” says Diana Ballantyne, a long-time resident and the general manager of Fernwood Resort. “I was very ill a few years back and the health center healed me – they saved my life.”
At its facility at 46896 Highway 1, a half mile past its original home at the Big Sur Grange, the small bilingual staff at Big Sur Health Center treats more than 1,200 patients a year with more than 3,000 annual visits, says Sharen Carey, a physician’s assistant and the center’s executive director. The center is open five days a week from 10am to 5pm, and has a health care provider available to take phone calls after hours.
The health center also offers dental, chiropractic and acupuncture services.
“We’re like any family practice office,” she says. “We’ve seen babies that are one day old and people more than 90.”
In October, the Big Sur Health Center held its annual health fair where medical providers gave flu shots, screenings for blood sugar and cholesterol levels and blood pressure checks, all free of charge.
Forty percent of the health center’s funding comes from service fees, but the center also has a sliding scale payment option to keep care affordable for the uninsured. The remaining 60 percent of funding comes from individual donors and foundation support.
Carey hopes the center raises its Monterey County Gives! goal of $75,000, in part to help fund a new heart monitoring machine.
“One of the things we are hoping to do is expand our hours,” Carey says. “The community wants us to be open on Saturdays and we’d like to eventually be able to provide that.”
Big Sur’s rugged, often dangerous terrain can create an urgent need for medical care. In times of wildfires, mudslides and road closures, the staff of the health center help organize the community’s response to pressing medical situations.
“I wish they were open 24/7,” Ballantyne says.