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Community benefit:

Going electronic in Big Sur

Wild forces carved the craggy Big Sur coastline, and they continue to create a dynamic environment that can sometimes test even the most hardy and hale.



Big Sur Health CenterPatient records are now stored electronically.

When they need it, residents and visitors can get medical attention at the Big Sur Health Center, a treasured resource since it opened in 1979 in the kitchen of the old Grange Hall. The center has evolved markedly since then, moving to bigger, more substantial quarters and expanding its hours under the guidance of medical director Dr. Deborah Biller.

While it offers a safety net for the people along the Big Sur coast, the health center itself recently needed some extra protection from the acts of nature that sometimes visit this region, including fires and floods.“

After the 2008 Basin Complex fires, emergency teams from Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service did an evaluation of the community and identified the health center as being in a vulnerable location,” says Sharen Carey, a physician’s assistant and the health center’s executive director.

The fire denuded hillsides east of Highway 1. With no foliage to hold anything back, the teams concluded that winter rains could bring significant flooding and mud and debris slides that could threaten the health center. As a result, the health center staff met “to look at the worst-case scenario, to consider what we need to protect besides lives,” Carey says.

Patient records were an obvious and primary concern. When the health center opened more than 30 years ago, it began amassing a collection of paper medical charts and records for some 1,500 patients. A fire or flood could wipe out all that valuable history.

Clearly, says Carey, the time had come to transfer all documents to electronic medical records that can be accessed easily yet housed virtually in a remote location for safekeeping. 

“The government is going to make electronic recordkeeping mandatory in the next few years anyway,” says Carey. “But we knew we needed to protect ours right away. In addition, if Dr. Biller sees one of our patients in the Emergency department at Community Hospital, she can access the patient information remotely with the electronic records system.”

Thanks in part to a $10,000 grant from Community Hospital’s Community Benefit Program, the Big Sur Health Center went live in summer 2009, with records transferred to an electronic system housed in a high-security facility in San Diego. The center is just one of dozens of local organizations Community Hospital has partnered with through its Community Benefit Program to achieve shared health-related goals.

“Everyone has been working hard to create a health-data network exchange among the health center, the hospital, and medical offices on the Peninsula,” says Carey. “We’ve come a long way from the kitchen of the Grange Hall in 1979.”

The Big Sur Health Center is at 46896 Highway 1. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. For information, please call 667-2580 or go online at

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