When Jane Garcia decided that she wanted to work in the healthcare industry, she knew that she specifically wanted to help the Latinx community. And that’s what she’s been doing for the past 40-plus years at La Clínica de La Raza, where she helps low-income, uninsured people—many of them immigrants—in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties access quality healthcare.
La Clínica de La Raza—also known as La Clínica—serves patients who may otherwise go without medical treatment. Over 22 percent are uninsured, 64 percent identify as Latinx, and over 94 percent are low-income. La Clínica’s clients pay on a sliding-scale basis through a network of community health centers.
Like many Americans, Garcia herself grew up without health insurance, only seeing a doctor when she was extremely sick. And she has spent her career—first as an intern and now as CEO—at La Clínica working to make sure others don’t have to go through the same health-care challenges.
Garcia graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health in 1980 with an MPH. While at Berkeley Public Health, she focused on community health centers. One of her faculty advisors, David Hayes-Bautista (now at UCLA), helped found La Clínica in 1971 and Garcia ended up interning there. She’s never looked back.
The Beginnings of La Clínica
Rooted in the work of UC Berkeley students, La Clínica launched in 1977 as a free clinic in East Oakland with comprehensive care, including optometry and dental services. The population served was 98 percent Latinx. The students who founded La Clinica focused on access to healthcare and with the help of volunteers and funding from Alameda County, the operation launched and eventually expanded across the Bay Area.
Garcia said that all of their work is made possible through strong partnerships with health centers like Kaiser Permanente.
“I really relish developing partnerships,” Garcia said. “I think you can get more done with partnerships. That strategy has really paid off and since when I started, [La Clinica] was a $2 million operation and pre-COVID, it was a $118 million operation.”
In addition to treating patients, La Clínica helps patients enroll in Medicaid or other insurance programs and drives economic development for the communities it serves. “ I’ve always said that the clinics are not social services,” said Garcia. “We are a big contributor to economic development in the community. We hire from the community, buy from the community, give to the community, and create a second generation of employees.”
Policy and Advocacy Work
Garcia not only works directly with patients but also is a strong advocate for policy change within the healthcare industry. After all, as Garcia notes, policy affects every level of bureaucracy with the world of social services.
“It’s been an amazing journey for me. I think on an everyday basis, I’m exposed to a number of different functions. I’m an advocate and part of my job is making sure that policymakers are aware of the impact made on our communities,” Garcia said.
As an immigrant rights organization, La Clínica also files lawsuits on behalf of their clients. In 1994, La Clínica unsuccessfully fought alongside undocumented women against Proposition 187, which would have prevented undocumented immigrant women from accessing prenatal care (the proposition passed but never went into law).
“We’re an immigrant rights organization,” says Garcia. “We think there’s a place for advocacy in all the work that we do.”
Coping With COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the structure of work at La Clínica for the moment, with a reduction in staff and shift to telehealth. Telehealth has been problematic as many of the families the clinic serves have been hit hard economically by the pandemic and are struggling to pay their phone bills. Staff has been handling most visits over the phone rather than video, increasing some access to telehealth, and are also directing patients towards outside resources, such as school districts.
And clinic staff members are helping clients who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 in other ways: re-enrolling those whose healthcare coverage expired during the pandemic, delivering meals to quarantined families, and helping them keep their homes through a network of governmental, nonprofit, community, social media, and personal resources.
“I think that this pandemic is an opportunity to transform the system. I think that telehealth is going to be an ongoing part of our lives, and we need to make sure that the infrastructure is there for everyone and that there is no technological divide,” Garcia said. “There’s never a dull moment. There’s constant opportunity to get involved, to transform, to inform, and I think that’s been a driving point for me.”