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Prayers for slain officers, and Finding light in the midst of urban violence

Most Malta Clinic patients recently lost health insurance

Livermore parishioner to run 12 marathons as fundraiser for ailing niece

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placeholder April 13, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Most Malta Clinic patients
recently lost health insurance

Dr. John Chokatos (right), medical director of the Order of Malta Medical Clinic in Oakland, looks over a patient’s chart with Christian Gersch (left) and Hans-Joerg Schmitz, medical students from the University of Giessen in Germany, who spent a month’s internship at the clinic.
CARRIE MCCLISH PHOTO

The Order of Malta’s Medical Clinic for the uninsured has seen more than 600 patients since its opening last October in Oakland and most of the patients are recently unemployed people who no longer have health insurance.

“It’s tragic,” said Dr. John Chokatos, the clinic’s medical director. “People who were working for 30 years are out on the street with no health insurance at all.”

Chokatos said the movement of jobless people towards free health clinics like Malta reflects “a community-wide crisis and it’s going to get worse.” He voiced the hope that the situation will be temporary, but “in the meantime, this is a very difficult period.”

However, during the current rise in unemployment and all of its attendant problems, the physician hailed the “providential, fortuitous timing” of the opening of the Malta Clinic on the premises of the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in downtown Oakland.

“We are the last net people have.” Chokatos said. When the clinic was in the planning stages in early 2008, “the board of the Malta Order could never have foreseen the community’s great need for our services, but now it has turned out to be exactly the right thing at the right time.”

Thus far, the clinic has treated 121 Cau-casians, 168 African Americans, 212 Hispanics, 81 Asian/Pacific Islanders, six Middle Easterners, one biracial person, four Europeans and 10 others who did not list their ethnic origins, reported Roy Quinata, office manager. The gender breakdown is 345 males and 261 females.

Quinata said the patients are “coming to us from everywhere,” commuting from Napa and Solano counties and from such distant cities as Merced. The majority seek treatment and medications for ongoing conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, he said. The clinic has a low-cost prescription contract with a local nearby pharmacy.

When the clinic first opened in its doors on Oct. 13, the staff anticipated a large influx of homeless people, but so far only two percent of the clinic’s patients have said they are homeless. “Either we are still out of their loop, or else they are going to the East Bay’s other free clinics, which offer social services in addition to medical assistance,” said Quinata. However, those clinics “have long waiting lists.”

The more than 600 unemployed individuals who have sought medical care at the Malta Clinic are part of an overall Bay Area situation in which thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Clinic staff anticipate that more and more individuals are likely to need free medical facilities for the uninsured.

As the clinic moves into its seventh month of operation, the focus is changing from general to internal medicine, Quinata said. Pediatric care, minor surgical procedures and urgent care are no longer available. “We can’t offer everything to everybody,” said Dr. Chokatos. He oversees two paid staff, 14 volunteer doctors and 24 volunteer nurses. He receives a stipend for his work.

The clinic is currently open Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Quinata hopes to add an additional day to the schedule in the near future. Patients are asked to call for an appointment. Walk-ins will be given an appointment for another day, Quinata said.

Dr. Chokatos, who started at the clinic as a volunteer and was appointed director earlier this month, is an internist. He graduated from the West Virginia University School of Medicine in 1964 and completed his studies at UCSF.

He worked for a time at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, then moved on to the San Francisco Veterans Administration, and finally, to the State of California as a reviewer of disability claims. He retired from that position four years ago because the position was “medicine once removed from people.” He is a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland.

Roy Quinata is a native of Guam who moved to Alameda with his family as a young child. He joined the Malta Clinic as a volunteer last October and was hired in November. He holds a MBA in finance from the University of San Diego and previously worked for another free health clinic in Oakland. He served for two years as co-chair for the Alameda County Contra Costa County Health Services Planning Council. He is a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Persons wishing to make appointments for the Malta Clinic should call (510) 587-3000.

The receptionist speaks Spanish and Tagalog in addition to English.

 
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