| Pittsburg free clinic helps 750 in first year
Volunteer pharmacist Ron Grady and bi-lingual technician Stephanie Lopez check a patient's needs.
The middle-aged man leaned forward, listening closely as nurse Rebecca Tsuma explained the risks of diabetes. His wife, dressed all in black, watched intently. His only question was how much diabetes medicine would cost, explaining that he had only worked two days last month.
Around the corner in an examination room smaller than a walk-in closet, Dr. Hamid Khonsari examined a stream of patients too poor to go to a doctor's office. At 7 a.m. he had begun his day with paying patients in his own family practice in Antioch. But at 4 p.m. Khonsari began a three-hour stint at the RotaCare Pittsburg Free Medical Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul as a volunteer physician helping sick people too poor for the normal system.
The clinic opened Feb. 9, 2011, the result of two years of planning by SVdP of Contra Costa County, which identified a large population of uninsured adults with acute or chronic medical conditions and were unable to reach any health care.
In its first year, the clinic served more than 750 uninsured people. Nearly 100 volunteers contribute their time to run the clinic — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, translators, social workers and educators. Even more could have been helped if more doctors were available, since without them the clinic cannot operate, and pharmacists.
Nearly three-quarters of the clinic's patients live in Pittsburg or Antioch. A tenth come from Oakley and Brentwood, with Bay Point and Concord most of the rest.
Many of the people served are middle-aged and come in with acute illnesses, especially upper respiratory illnesses. A third are diabetic, another third are hypertensive.
Normally two volunteer doctors see patients, but sometimes there is a shortage of doctors who can volunteer after their own busy medical day. Patients are asked to call and make an appointment, with the reality that the clinic could be overwhelmed by people in need of help.
The clinic hopes to grow, opening several days each week if it can find the essential doctors needed.
Volunteer Olga Espinosa remembers nursing her husband back to health after he was shot four years ago. "He told me I'm a really good nurse," the Rodeo resident said. That prompted her to become a medical assistant and she has been a clinic volunteer since day one.
Retired pharmacist Ron Grady of San Ramon runs the pharmacy, stocking only 40 prescription items — no controlled substances — but a lot of diabetes medication, inhalers and the like. The clinic begs what it can and has a small budget to buy what it can't.
"People we see really have nowhere else to go," says Grady. "They get laid off; their resources are thin; for the first time in their lives they are a step from the street—and don't know what to do!"
Across from the pharmacy is a day shelter that doubles in the evening as a diabetes education center.
RotaCare Bay Area, a Rotary program which provides expertise for 11 free clinics in the Bay Area became a key partner. The clinic partnership includes 11 Contra Costa Catholic parishes, 10 corporate and foundation donors, and more than 30 individual and group donors.