Oakland Cathedral Houses Free Medical Clinic for the Uninsured

Oakland Cathedral Houses Free Medical Clinic for the Uninsured

For the 28 million Americans without health insurance, receiving treatment from a primary care doctor can be incredibly expensive. The poor are especially vulnerable, as they often cannot afford the monthly premiums for health insurance, but also cannot afford basic doctor visits without insurance.

For nearly 10 years, the Order of Malta Clinic at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland has offered free medical care to people who do not have insurance. The only clinic of its kind in America, the Order of Malta Clinic recently served its 25,000th patient! All of the medical staff – physicians, PAs, nurse practitioners, etc. – are volunteers, and it is the only Catholic healthcare facility in the Diocese of Oakland.

John Christian, a member of the Order of Malta, recently sat down with Kristine Franklin to discuss the Order of Malta Clinic and how it serves the people of Oakland. John explained that the clinic in Oakland is an extension of the mission of the Order of Malta, which is dedicated to caring for people in need through its medical, social, and humanitarian works. He said of the clinic:

“We’re very proud of our tradition of serving the sick and the poor for almost 1,000 years, and this is just a shining example of our commitment to take care of each other.”

Below is an excerpt of the interview from The Kristine Franklin Show:

How did the idea for this medical clinic come about?
The idea behind the clinic began sometime around 2005, on the Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. The then-bishop of Oakland, Bishop Allen Vigneron, started a dialogue with some of the members of the Order of Malta about establishing a medical clinic for the uninsured on the campus of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, which was then under construction.

We took the seeds from that conversation and developed plans for an 1,800 sq. foot clinic, right at the base of the pilgrim’s walk at the Cathedral. And we funded it largely through donations from the members of the Order of Malta. We do not take government assistance, we do not bill insurers. We are a largely volunteer medical force, which provides healing for the body, while the Cathedral space provides healing for the soul.

What kind of services do you provide?
We continue to attract some of the best medical professionals in the Bay Area. … We currently have about 25 volunteer physicians, and most of the medicine is internal medicine, though we do see patients who have diabetes or hypertension. We also provide some dermatology, OB-GYN services, smoking cessation, nutritional advice. All sorts of disciplines within the medical field are represented at the clinic. We don’t provide surgery, of course, but we are your primary care physician type office. … We pack a lot of medicine into our small space there. … There are a lot of things we can do, but if we can’t we have excellent referral sources that our nurse practitioners are always on top of. And we have social workers at the clinic to help with the referral process to help get them to the right care.

Are there plans to expand this idea to other areas?
A lot of members of the Order of Malta in other areas of the West look to the Oakland model and say, ‘We want a clinic just like that in our backyard.’ We actually have a mental health clinic of a smaller scale up in Seattle, there is a medical clinic in Los Angeles, but it is on a very different model. Ours is the most full-service clinic in the west. There has been some discussion about creating additional clinics as signature programs of the Order of Malta in other locations. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of financial resources, and a lot of regulation to operate a clinic like ours.

How can you keep your expenses so low?
Most of our practitioners are volunteers, so our labor costs are very low. Our rent from the Diocese of Oakland is $1 a year, and we work with medical supply vendors to get charity care pricing for our medical supplies. When somebody comes into the clinic with a chronic condition, and we can keep them away from the county or private hospital and the emergency rooms, we are essentially saving the taxpayers about $2,000, which is the typical cost of an ER visit. So when we survive on $550,000 a year, we’re really providing medical care that on retail pricing would be measured in the multiple millions of dollars.

But because we can leverage our volunteer mission and getting favorable pricing from vendors, we’re able to to care of a lot of people, and we’d like to do more.

How does this clinic promote a culture of life?
Pro-life means taking care of the individual from conception to natural death. We extend people’s lives if we can catch tuberculosis, or if we can catch Hepatitis C, or if we can catch high blood pressure – you name it. We enhance the quality of life while also being pro-life and we need good, healthy living in all forms. So it’s more of a holistic look at the topic.

Listen to the full interview below:

The Kristine Franklin Show airs weekdays from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Pacific.