CenCal Health Commemorates 40 Years of Quality Care in Santa Barbara County, 15 years in SLO County

One of the country’s first managed care plans honors local healthcare providers,

community partners instrumental in its four-decade history on the Central Coast

        Health plan’s anniversary formally recognized by each counties’ board of supervisors

On December 6, CenCal Health welcomed a distinguished cohort of health professionals in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties – including its dedicated primary care physicians, clinicians, specialists, hospitalists, and other community partners – to commemorate four decades of strengthening the region’s health system.

Held at the Hilton Santa Barbara, the celebratory event recognized and awarded local healthcare practitioners, social service agencies and nonprofits, as well as both business and government leaders, who have worked together to provide exceptional care for Medi-Cal members on the Central Coast over CenCal Health’s 40-year history. Partner Awards were presented to over 30 individuals and organizations in 10 categories, including the Founding Partner Award to Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, represented by Public Health Director Mouhanad Hammami (pictured right); the Innovation Award to Central Coast Medical Association, and the Visionary Award to Cottage Health, Dignity Health Central Coast, Lompoc Valley Medical Center and Tenet Health Central Coast. Two outstanding local physicians – Jeffrey Kaplan, M.D. and Augusto Castañeda, M.D. – each received the Quality Care Award.  The presentation incorporated remarks from CenCal Health Board Members, including Chair Dr. René Bravo of Bravo Pediatrics in San Luis Obispo, Vice Chair and Tenet Health Central Coast CEO Mark Lisa, and Santa Barbara County 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann.

“CenCal Health is grateful for the partnership of local healthcare providers and county agencies,” said CenCal Health CEO Marina Owen (pictured center). “Over four decades ago, this community had the foresight to come together and organize to more effectively manage the care of the most vulnerable among us.”


In 1983, a pilot program for managed care gave rise to a health insurance plan recognized by The Ford Foundation and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for its innovation and efficiency. The program – originally called the Santa Barbara Health Initiative – became known as CenCal Health, the nation’s first locally-administered Medicaid program of its kind.

The Santa Barbara Health Initiative, fulfilling the vision of Santa Barbara County’s Health Care Services Director Dr. Lawrence Hart, brought local oversight to the Medi-Cal delivery system. With an emphasis on primary and preventive care, patients were assigned to primary care physicians, who were better compensated and in a timely manner, which in turn brought more doctors into the network. This strategy – developed by the community’s own public health experts and local leadership – not only improved care for Medi-Cal recipients but also helped reduce government cost.

In 1986, the healthcare start-up was selected as a finalist in an Innovations in American Government award program sponsored by the Ford Foundation and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. On the 10th anniversary of the health initiative, a 1993 editorial in the Santa Barbara News-Press suggested that the “wave of the future, managed care, has been here all along.” In 2008, the organization now known as CenCal Health assumed responsibility for the Medi-Cal program in San Luis Obispo County.

On December 5, in honor of the health plan’s four-decade history, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors presented Owen with a Board Resolution in Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of CenCal Health. In addition, on December 4, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, through 3rd District Supervisor and CenCal Health Board Member Dawn Ortiz-Legg, recognized CenCal Health’s successful tenure in the county with a Certificate of Recognition, which was also accepted in-person by Owen.


The community health plan currently partners with over 1,500 local physicians, hospitals, and other providers in delivering quality health care to nearly 230,000 members on the Central Coast – one in three residents of Santa Barbara County and one in four residents of San Luis Obispo County. The health plan employs over 360 people, with offices in Santa Barbara, Goleta and San Luis Obispo. In some cases, multiple generations of Central Coast families have worked at the organization that also contributes approximately $50 million a month in payments for healthcare to the local economy, primarily through payments to healthcare providers serving its members.

Other CenCal Health Partner awards and awardees bestowed at the December 6 event:

Partnership Excellence Award

Sansum Clinic

Community Health Centers of the Central Coast

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics

Jackson Medical Group

Community Impact Award

American Indian Health & Services

Santa Ynez Tribal Health Center

VNA Health (CEO Kieran Shah pictured left)

Palliative Care Consultants of Santa Barbara, Michael Bordofsky, M.D.

Transformation Award

Good Samaritan Shelter

Doctors Without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine

5Cities Homeless Coalition

Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo

Distinguished Service Award

Pediatric Medical Group of Santa Maria

Childrens Medical Clinic of Santa Barbara

Robert Barry, M.D.

Himat Tank, M.D.

James Brewer, M.D.

Cindy Blifeld, M.D.

Advocacy Award

Congressman Salud Carbajal

Senator Monique Limón

Assemblyman Gregg Hart

Supervisor Das Williams

Supervisor Joan Hartmann

Board Leadership Award

Dan Herlinger

René Bravo, M.D.

“Tonight, CenCal Health and its partners celebrate our collective impact of delivering quality healthcare to our communities for 40 years. Tomorrow, we continue advancing this great legacy to execute a strategic plan organized around four main priorities – cultivate community partnerships; advance quality and health equity for all; expand our service role and reach; and organize for impact and effectiveness,” said Owen. “What we have learned in the past four decades certainly informs our work moving forward.”

More information on CenCal Health is available at cencalhealth.org.

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Media Contact: Sheri Mobley  (213) 509-9816   sheri@seamlesspr.com

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