A right to health care
RotaCare clinic helps the uninsured get well and stay well
As far as Cheryl Canning is concerned, health care is a human right. And by all accounts, the doctors, nurses, medical professionals and other volunteers who give their time to the RotaCare clinic in Mountain View feel the same.
Canning, a registered nurse and director of clinical services of the Mountain View medical center, said the "army of volunteers" who make the organization functional would not be there if they did not care deeply about what they are doing, as most have very busy lives and careers.
Still, Canning said, volunteers at the clinic often report that the work they do is extremely rewarding.
"We all came to RotaCare tonight because we believe we are making a difference," Dr. David Quincy, medical director and clinical volunteer at RotaCare, wrote of a day's work at the clinic in a testimonial on the organization's website. "We will all come back again next time because we want to keep making that difference."
RotaCare aims to provide free, quality care to the uninsured through its 11 clinics located all around the Bay Area — from Pittsburg and San Rafael to Gilroy and Monterey.
The organization gets its name from the various local Rotary Clubs that support it. Founded in 1989, it is funded entirely by grants and donations and staffed primarily by volunteers.
Canning has been with the Mountain View clinic since 1996, when it was run out of a small church hall. Back then, doctors and nurses would care for about eight patients each week, she said. Today, the clinic operates out of a proper medical building on the El Camino Hospital Campus and serves more than 200 patients weekly. It is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The Mountain View clinic has almost 300 volunteers, 113 of whom are medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, physician's assistants, pharmacist, and medical and nursing students. Non-medical professionals work as office administrators and interpreters, and in coordinating with the local restaurants that donate food for the volunteers every night the clinic is open.
One of RotaCare's main goals, Canning said, is to serve as a primary care clinic for the uninsured with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. "For the uninsured, it's very difficult to find primary care providers."
Managing people's health while they are well helps keep emergency rooms clear to deal with catastrophic injuries and other sudden-onset illnesses, and ultimately saves taxpayers' money, Canning said.
Physicians at RotaCare specialize in many fields, including cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, rheumatology, gynecology and more.
"These are all specialty fields where it is difficult for us to refer our patients to other systems," Canning said. With specialists in-house, the clinic helps patients manage their health effectively.
"Pediatrics is a very large component of what we do," Canning said, noting that donations received from the Voice's Holiday Fund are likely to go to care for children. "In the past 12 months we have seen a 72 percent uptick in requests for pediatric services."
The rise in children coming through RotaCare's doors echoes an overall rise in demand for the services Canning and her colleagues provide. The recession and ballooning unemployment have forced many people — of all stripes and socioeconomic standing — to choose between paying the insurance company, and putting food on the table and paying rent.
The services RotaCare provides do not go unappreciated. In addition to all the smiles and heartfelt thanks that come standard at any one of the Bay Area clinics, Canning said that a significant portion of RotaCare patients contribute some amount for medical services.
"People want to participate in any way they can in their own care," Canning said. "Whatever it is they can afford, we accept that."
In 2010, patients donated about $18,000 to the Mountain View clinic — enough to cover diabetes medication for 60 patients for an entire year.
Canning said it is difficult to put an annual price tag on the service RotaCare provides in Mountain View, but she estimated that it is somewhere in the "tens of millions of dollars."
Whatever the cost of keeping her clinic up and running, Canning said, it is worth it, and not just because it saves lives or keeps patients from clogging up emergency rooms.
"If you have someone who is sick in your community, your community is sick," she said. "The best way to keep your community healthy is to take care of every single individual in the community, not only those fortunate enough to be insured."