Last week, Asian Health Services (AHS) embarked on its largest capital project in the center’s history, the grand opening of an $11-million clinic in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown, located at 835 Webster at the site of the former Silver Dragon Restaurant.
For Justin Tran, an Oakland resident who brings his mother in for regular doctor visits, the new clinic, opened across the street from the original facility, is a welcomed expansion.
“I come here with my mom to take care of her health. She requires that a doctor see her more often. She has an excellent doctor who has seen her for the last 10 years but the wait is painful. At least, two to three hours minimum,” said Tran upon entering the new building.
To respond to long waitlists, AHS has been pushing to expand but historically has been restricted by space and staff limitations. A sign posted outside the building explains that the facility currently has more than 5,000 patients on waitlists and the staff is no longer able to enroll new patients.
AHS, which guarantees health care to its clients regardless of income, insurance status, immigration status, or language, received a sizable grant from President Obama’s health care reform bill passed in 2010. The center then took out a loan to buy the building where the now-closed Silver Dragon restaurant once was. The staff is selling raffle tickets as a fundraising effort to pay off the loan.
“Our base is growing and we want to accept more people into the program,” said Nina Chalene Ninalga, site manager. “We are lucky to have received the grant from Obama but we also accept private donations to assist with operations.”
The new facility has 20 new exam rooms and a central space where doctors and caseworkers can gather to diagnose a patient’s health condition. The new clinic can handle 10,000 patients per year. On the second floor, there are 10 exam rooms for geriatrics. “The third floor is vacant. Ten exam rooms will open for family care once new medical staff is hired,” said Ninalga.
“We do take insurance, still most patients who come to us are at poverty level and under-insured. Payment is on a sliding scale and is based on income,” said Ninalga.
According to 2010 census bureau data, 19.6 percent of the general population in Oakland lives below the poverty line. AHS reaches the most vulnerable of these with 54 percent of their patients living below the poverty line, which means that for a family of four, the annual income is $22,350. Forty-three percent are living at 100-200 percent of poverty level ($22,350-$46,100 annual income) and the remaining three percent are above 200% of poverty level ($46,00 annual income) according to AHS’s 2011-2012 annual report.
“Ninety percent of patients don’t speak English, or very little so it serves as an obstacle to getting care for them. Our staff speaks more than a dozen languages so that relieves some of the pressure,” said Ninalga.
“Without language access, I would feel very helpless because I would not be able to communicate my thoughts and feelings,” said Yue Ying Liang, a patient at the new clinic whose native language is Cantonese. “I feel well taken care of at AHS.”