Kaiser Permanente this week awarded a $60,000 grant to Alameda County-based LifeLong Medical Care, a network of safety net clinics that provide low income communities in Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond with access to health and social services.
The Lifelong Downtown Oakland center provides family and adult medicine, prenatal care, care for HIV and AIDS patients and access to food stamps, among other services to Oakland residents. LifeLong refers patients to county hospitals and other larger non-membership based healthcare providers, except in cases when patients already hold membership to premium healthcare providers like Kaiser. It serves at least 1,000 people every month.
Linda Collins, a patient services manager at LifeLong Medical Care who has been involved in the provision of primary health care services through safety net clinics for more than 20 years, said Lifelong centers have seen a significant increase in the demand for services. “We are seeing an influx of the uninsured, the newly out of work and the working poor,” Collins said. “Everyone is coming here for health care services and we feel that safety net clinics have an important role to play in making sure than these people do not fall through the cracks.”
Collins said many newly unemployed clients are unaware of the benefits provided by state and county programs. “There are people that have worked all their lives and have never needed anything from the state or county programs, and we have had to try to continue serving more people with fewer resources,” Collins said.
But Collins said that many of newly unemployed people shy away from applying for social services, health care benefits and other provisions like the low-income program from PG&E or tax credits. “There is a stigma because people feel like it is charity, but we try to work with them so these services do not just look like charity,” she said.
Collins said Kaiser’s grant, which is part of $600,000 in grants that the hospital group has awarded to 11 clinics in northern California, will go a long way in helping LifeLong Medical Care with its operations in Oakland. The organization, which has centers in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, runs on an annual budget of $35 million, with a staff of 620 workers. Its twelve centers aid a total of at least 41,000 patients with 250,ooo visits annually, according to LifeLong administrative reports.
Dr. David Shearn, Kaiser’s director of physician education and development, and also the group’s community benefit physician liaison in Northern California, said the hospital group seeks to help improve access to community and public resources.
“Kaiser Permanente is committed to keeping people healthy—and health means much more than just health care,” Shearn said. “It’s also healthy food, safe places to live, a job to support one’s family. When people have their essential needs met, the whole community benefits, and community clinics offer a trusted place for people to access these essential services.”
The grants are expected to increase access to services such as food banks, job training programs, homeless and domestic violence shelters and increase the clinics’ capacity to provide counseling and testing for HIV, as well as provide greater access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.