Clinic by the Bay expands free health care for the working uninsured in SF 

After four years of serving more than 1,500 uninsured adults, Clinic by the Bay, a volunteer-powered free health clinic, is expanding its reach.

With the Affordable Care Act and Covered California expanding MediCal’s reach, some uninsured patients that the Excelsior-based Clinic by the Bay has served in recent years now have medical coverage. As a result, the clinic is widening its geographical focus to serve all of San Francisco and San Mateo counties, Executive Director Eliza Gibson said. It previously only served uninsured patients in neighborhoods close to the clinic.

“We’re excited to welcome more of our working uninsured neighbors into our caring medical home,” Gibson said.

Clinic by the Bay, at 4877 Mission St., is based on the Volunteers in Medicine model, which engages retired doctors, physicians and nurses to provide free medical care for uninsured workers who don’t qualify for or don’t get insurance from their employer. The clinic is fully funded by the private sector and does not accept insurance or government funding. Nearly half of its operating budget is covered by pro bono services.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the clinic, from doctors and nurses, through receptionist and interpreters, to health educators and IT experts,” said Gibson, adding the clinic has more than 125 active volunteers and has been the beneficiary of more than 30,000 of volunteer hours since it opened in 2010. “We use more non-medical volunteers than medical volunteers.”

“We are all volunteers that love to do this and the patients are appreciative,” said Rosalie Bravo, a nurse and volunteer at Clinic by the Bay since February. “I love to do this.”

Clinic by the Bay provides primary and preventive care, chronic disease management, assistance in obtaining prescription medicines, limited mental health services and coordination of specialty referrals. By not dealing with insurance or billing, the administrative overhead is very low for the clinic, Gibson said.

“We give doctors and nurses a chance to build meaningful relationships and partnerships with their patients so they can help our patients to live more healthy lives,” she said. “We give doctors the chance to practice the art of medicine rather than the business of health care.”

According to the California Health Interview Survey last year, about 87,000 San Franciscans between the ages of 18 and 64 years old were uninsured.

“We are issue oriented and we are not focused on finances,” said David Goldschmidt, medical director of the clinic. “It’s a friendly collegial environment with doctors and nurse practitioners that take care of patients of all sorts of background that get together and work together to provide care to people that otherwise can’t get it. Patients are very grateful and the doctors are happy.”

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