For all the gratitude volunteers at the RotaCare Free Clinic in Mountain View accept from needy patients receiving medical services, Mirella Nguyen has a little secret to share.
The volunteer clinicians providing those services are grateful, too.
“We call it the ‘RotaCare high,’” said Nguyen, director of clinical services and clinic manager at RotaCare Mountain View. “This clinic is actually in many ways providing a greater sense of personal and career satisfaction (for volunteers) because of these real moments they get to see.”
And while those volunteers receive a greater sense of satisfaction, they also provide sorely needed services, Nguyen noted. The free clinic has seen a steady increase in patients during the economic downturn.
What started as a small six-month pilot program 16 years ago to serve low- income patients a couple of nights a week has become a one-stop shop that receives more than 3,500 patient visits annually. The clinic now goes beyond providing basic medical services, offering immunizations and 17 specialized medical services, including chronic-illness management.
In the past year, the clinic established a partnership with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, offering one or two free surgeries per month to patients.
“As the economy is affected with all of these other industries, so is the service sector, which is a huge portion of who we service,” said Nguyen, who welcomes 325 volunteers per year, including approximately 100 clinicians. “These are now the folks who not only didn’t have health care to begin with, but now they don’t have a job. Now they’re finding themselves moving in with several other families. It’s a pretty desperate situation.”
But workers in the service sector aren’t the only patients RotaCare volunteers and staff are seeing these days, she said. The stereotypical image of who receives free medical care, she noted, has been shattered in recent years as more college-educated residents struggle to find work and survive.
“We’re seeing many more professionals who were laid off from work,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many grad students we’ve had in here over the last few months – a lot of young kids out of college who just cannot find a job.”
Those struggles go beyond the need for medical services. To that end, Nguyen intends to use funds received from the 2012 Town Crier Holiday Fund to fill another need – hiring a part-time social worker who connects patients with other safety-net services in the Bay Area.
“It’s all of the social facets that are now creeping into folks’ lives that are affecting health and that we need help sorting out,” Nguyen said. “The need has grown.”Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier