Rotacare volunteers are busier than ever
Clinic offers free health care to the community's uninsured
A lot of people donate food, gifts or money around the holidays, but there is a special group of people who give year-round — they give their time.
Mountain View Rotacare at 2400 Grant Road is one of 12 Rotacare clinics in the Bay Area that offer free healthcare for the community's uninsured.
"Our mission is to provide access to medical care to those with the least access available, said Mirella Nguyen, the manager.
Rotacare is staffed by fewer than 10 full-time employees — the rest are volunteers. There are around 110 physicians, with about half rotating through each month, and 235 nurses and support staff, she said. Patients can make appointments over the phone Mondays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m., but the clinic does not accept walk-ins, according to Nguyen.
Nguyen, who said she has been working for Rotacare for almost five years, said she has noticed a significant trend in her patients over the past two years.
"Most of our patients are working two jobs, which is not something I saw about five years ago, when I started," she said.
Nguyen explained how there is no "picture of uninsured poverty" anymore. She sees recent graduate students come in, or people who have lost their businesses bring in their families.
She said the cut in public funding at a state level impacted the lower class by narrowing the eligibility requirements for health services and many who qualified at one time don't qualify any more.
"You have to be the poorest of the poor in order to qualify for a lot these available programs," Nguyen said.
Nguyen said in the past 18 months, the clinic has noticed a spike in mental health issues. According to her, about one out of every three patients seen at Rotacare has a complaint about symptoms like headache, backache or lack of sleep which is usually the result of underlying depression or anxiety. Most aren't aware of it, and have not had it treated, she said.
"I think it really had a lot to do with just the housing crunch that the Valley was going through," she said.
The mental stress-related symptoms have been affecting patients of all ages, she said.
Nguyen said that depression and anxiety have probably been the two largest components of health that can contribute to physical health conditions on an ongoing basis.
"I think particularly in the last six months, things have gotten really bad," she said.
Rotacare is able to offer some help.
"We actually have a partnership with a mental health agency in Palo Alto that will actually see patients who are kind of more on the critical side," Nguyen said.
That happens in the more extreme cases, if a person may be a threat to themselves or others, she said. Internally, the clinic has a part-time social worker and Rotacare officials are searching for a way to fund one on a more permanent basis that will allow them to open up more hours for patients, Nguyen said.
"The difficult thing is that volunteer social working is a little challenging because there is a lot of case management that kind of needs to happen with this type of work," she said.
Nguyen said that additional funding would allow for a social worker that can address a lot of issues — it's the non-physical needs people require help with.
"You'd be surprise by how many people actually end up in the (emergency department) for suicide attempts and never get any follow-up care," she said.
Patients are being forced to choose between paying for food or their medications, she noted. Nguyen said they're also short in the medical dispensary and people can't get their higher-cost prescriptions.
The part-time pharmacist, Lynn Wilson, said Nguyen understands every part of the clinic, and keeps track of every patient and immunization.
"It's not easy for anyone," Nguyen said. "If you're coming through our doors ... you're here for a pretty major reason these days."
People expect to be turned away or told no, Nguyen explained. She said patients walk in already frustrated as a result of being denied help by other places.
"They're here and they're ready to fight because they've been fighting to try to get what they need," she said.
Rotacare doesn't turn people down, they try to figure out what they can do to help, according to Nguyen.
"We actually do still have a vested interest in making sure that our community remains healthy, that our community remains informed," she said.
For those who are interested in helping Rotacare, the clinic is looking for a website designer to launch a website for them. Volunteers just need willingness to help and can be taught the skills needed to keep the clinic going, Nguyen said.
Another way to help is by giving to the Voice's Holiday Fund. Rotacare is one of seven local nonprofits serving Mountain View residents that benefits from contributions to the Holiday Fund. Administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 100 percent of contributions to the Holiday Fund are divided evenly among this year's beneficiaries.