Providing care beyond our walls
Humbling. Rewarding. Fulfilling. Those were some of the words Kaiser Permanente Fresno providers used to describe the four hours they spent in March 2017 answering health-related questions from Valley residents.
“Just listening to some of the patients brought tears to my eyes after hearing what they’re going through,” Family Medicine Physician Jesus Rodriguez, MD, said.
Ten physicians and one licensed clinical social worker from KP Fresno staffed a phone bank from 5 to 9 p.m. at KFTV Univision-21 studios at Palm and Herndon as part of a partnership between KP and Univision. All of the calls were answered by the physicians in Spanish. Residents called in to speak with a doctor about everything – from common health conditions to complicated mental health issues.
Family Medicine Physician Nelson Rodriguez, MD, said he spoke with a woman who was the victim of domestic abuse by her husband. But her family didn’t believe her and they told her “you should find a boyfriend and forget about it,” Rodriguez said.
Alejandro Ramirez, a Mental Health licensed clinical social worker, said he stayed on the phone with one caller for more than 30 minutes discussing a mental health issue. “For many of the people I spoke with, they were just happy that there were services available,” he said.
According to the most recent data available, just under 10 percent of Fresno County residents are uninsured – lower than the state average. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in January 2014, Fresno County has experienced high rates of Medi-Cal growth, significantly reducing the proportion of uninsured residents. Hispanics make up the majority of the population in Fresno County.
Many of the residents who called in were extremely grateful to speak with a physician in their native language and discuss their concerns with someone who understood their cultural needs and beliefs.
That’s one of the reasons why KP partnered with Univision on the physician phone bank, said Beatriz Rojas, senior director of Multicultural Marketing for KP’s Program Office. Another phone bank will be held on March 29 in Sacramento.
She also said the phone bank is part of KP’s commitment toward inclusion and providing “total health to all.”
“Our doctors very candidly and very humbly answered calls from the community,” said Rojas, who attended the Fresno phone bank. “This demonstrates how we’re providing direct support to the communities we serve beyond our walls.”
Some callers asked about how they could sign up for Kaiser Permanente insurance. Others called to express concerns over losing their health care coverage. Helping staff the phone bank were two enrollers from the ShopKP Fresno retail store. They said they booked several appointments for people interested in learning more about Kaiser Permanente insurance and options under Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.
Fresno held a similar phone bank two years ago, during which more than 300 residents called. About the same number called in again this year, with the majority of calls coming from non-members.
New this year was the ability to speak to a mental health provider. Mental Health Chief Marta Obler, MD, and Ramirez stayed busy answering questions about depression, anxiety and stress.
The physicians referred a high percentage of callers to local community health clinics to address their medical needs.
Although it was a long day for the physicians – most worked a full day in the clinic before coming to Univision for the phone bank – they said they would do it again if asked.
Family Medicine Physician Michael Castillo, MD, said the phone bank provides a valuable service because some residents are disenfranchised with the medical community.
And he said some people are fearful of reaching out to a provider given today’s political climate. He said one caller was afraid to provide him with her phone number. But he said after reassuring her it was just so he could have someone call her back, she began to feel more comfortable and eventually opened up to him.
“When you’re done speaking with them, they’re really so appreciative and grateful,” Dr. Castillo said. “It makes you feel good to know you’ve made a difference.”