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December 16, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Health care for those who need it most Health care for those who need it most (December 16, 2005)

RotaCare staffed by cheerful, dedicated volunteers

By Julia Bernard

Those arriving for the first time at Mountain View's RotaCare clinic are often surprised by its warm and welcoming ambience. The cozy waiting room is equipped with a bookstand filled with children's books. The team is so friendly and responsive that it's hard to believe most of these people arrived here after a full day's work. Or perhaps that's the secret to the special spirit here at RotaCare -- the staff comes here because they want to, not because they have to.

The largest of the nine clinics that constitute Bay Area RotaCare, the local RotaCare clinic -- located in El Camino Hospital's Park Pavilion -- offers free medical care for families who cannot afford insurance of any kind. Its staff -- almost all of them volunteers -- includes general practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, pediatricians and translators, among others. Many of them have worked with RotaCare for several years.

"When I started working here, the first thing that I noticed was that everybody [on the staff] would greet each other by hugging" said Barbara Avery, manager of RotaCare."They come here tired and they walk through these doors and they get a whole new injection of energy."

The clinic, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in January, was originally founded by the Rotary Club in order to bring basic medical care to those who need it most. Today, besides offering a range of essential health services, RotaCare has a chronic illness management program, a women's heath care program and child immunization programs. Local specialists, such as dermatologists and chiropractors, also donate their time at the clinic, and patients can schedule appointments with whatever specialist they need outside of the bi-weekly openings. (The clinic's normal hours are only twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.)

"Everyone is treated with respect, dignity and kindness and people grow to trust us," says Cheryl Canning, community services coordinator. "A lot of people who come here are living on the edge, where they often have to choose between taking care of the illness or buying food for their families, and that is a terrible choice."

More than 60 percent of the clinic's patients are Mountain View residents, and many of them Hispanic. They are people, Avery says, "who work two or three jobs, have very limited resources and are often barely getting by. Their system of priorities is a little bit different. They feel they cannot afford to be sick, and seek medical services often only as a last resort." This can be a problem if, as in one case, a person diagnosed with tuberculosis was sharing a tiny two-bedroom apartment with eight family members.

"The care these people receive in RotaCare is very important not only because we are able to keep them healthy and keep them working, but also because we help stop the diseases from spreading," explained Avery, "A great number of these people work in the service industry, including restaurants. These are people who clear your tables and wash your dishes."

Health education is a key factor in the clinic's services. For example, the clinic has been offering child immunization for many years, but not all the parents are eager to use the service. Avery noted that many people who come to RotaCare are not familiar with the concept of preventive care and often wonder, "If my child is not sick, why does he/she need a shot?" In response, doctors and nurses try to make sure parents are making informed choices.

RotaCare staff members use their time efficiently, caring for as many as 30 people a night. And with no worries about insurance paperwork, the doctors finally are free to do what they do best -- take care of their patients.

"When I am here at RotaCare clinic, I can take as much time as I need to speak with the patient, whether it is three minutes or half an hour," says Dr. Anil Singhal, who donates his time at RotaCare as a gynecologist. "Whether it is a teenage girl with an STD or a woman with a pelvic pain, you have to see the whole dynamic of the patient, not just the problem."

This ability to provide straightforward health care without all the hassle may be why, as Avery explained, "the doctors and nurses love coming here. That's the kind of medicine they wanted to practice when they went to med school."


E-mail Julia Bernard at [email protected]

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