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The only religious-based health clinic in Oakland raises funding

on October 22, 2015

On a recent Wednesday morning, six patients waited for care at the Order of Malta Clinic in downtown Oakland. Located at Cathedral of Christ the Light, the clinic is subsidized by the Diocese in Oakland and is the only religious-based free clinic in the city. With an operating budget of $468,000, it serves approximately 2,500 uninsured and underserved patients a year, providing a range of service plans from basic care at no cost to specialty care that may be obtained at a discount.

“They’ve been kind and straightforward,” said Peter Okafor, an international student who has visited the clinic twice.

Founded in Jerusalem by Templars a thousand years ago, the Roman Catholic lay order first began serving pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land and has roots dating back to the First Crusade. The Order of Malta’s mission shifted over time. Today, the group focuses on serving the world’s poor and sick. It has medical interventions across the globe, including two medical clinics in California: the Order of Malta Clinic in Oakland and the Knights of Malta Free Clinic in Los Angeles.

Ten volunteer doctors, 24 volunteer nurses, translators and administrators run the clinic with donations primarily from Order of Malta members. Recently, the clinic’s supporters raised funds totaling $175,000 in an effort to expand its hours from two and half days a week to five days a week.

Dental care isn’t provided, however, and some specialty services must be obtained through offsite referrals.

Dr. Thomas Wallace, a neurologist who has volunteered at the clinic for two years, offered the example of patients with advanced diabetes who are at risk of eye damage leading to blindness. “We can make some arrangements for screening for diabetic retinopathy,” he said. “But we can’t send anyone directly.”

Medical Director Dr. Vona Lorenzana said the clinic has one of Alameda County’s sixth highest referral rates to Operation Access, a group based in San Francisco that connects patients with doctors and hospitals willing to donate operations or specialty care.

“It all gets down to pretty much spirituality. All of us want to help people in need,” Wallace said. “It’s important to give these individuals complete care.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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