Report from the State Conference

by Nandita Krishna  

     This past November, the California Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (CAFCC) held its 3rd Annual Conference in the California Endowment building in Sacramento, in keeping with the focus this year on fundraising and legislative advocacy. The California Endowment is a private foundation that supports programs and legislation to promote health and well-being in underserved communities across the state. They hosted the event in a spacious room adorned with vibrant art and slogans like “Schools Not Prisons” and “¡Adelante!” The Berkeley Free Clinic sent four representatives to the conference: Scott Carroll (CAFCC and BFC Board Member), John Day, Alvin Chan (Lab), and myself (IRC).


     Day 1 of the conference centered on visits to our state legislature. We gathered for a briefing where we discussed our legislative priorities, which include funding from the state and loan forgiveness for health professionals who volunteer at free clinics. Similar legislation already exists in several other states: for example, Florida budgets $9.5 million per year to support its 57 free clinics, while Virginia budgets roughly $6 million per year for its 50 free clinics.

     In the afternoon, we split up to meet with the offices of several state senators and assemblymembers. Scott and I were warmly welcomed by aides of Senator Scott Weiner, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, and Assemblymember Evan Low, and we received excellent advice from each of them on how to best advocate for concrete legislative change. The first step, we were repeatedly told, is to get in touch with the chairs of the Budget and Health Committees of each House, as committees hold a great deal of power over the matters within their jurisdiction. After that it would be a matter of identifying natural allies with lobbying power (such as the California Nurses Association) and securing support from legislators. We left the Capitol with high spirits, lofty goals, and plenty of selfies.

      On Day 2, we met at the California Endowment building again to hear from a wide range of speakers, including State Senator Richard Pan and Nicole Lamoureux, the CEO of the National Association of Free Clinics. Julie Darnell, PhD, shared the results of her national survey of free clinics, which included the surprising information that free clinics have seen an upswing in number of visits since the ACA, and that there has been a major increase in clinics who will see underinsured patients in addition to those who are uninsured.

     Scott presented an award to Dr. David Smith in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his founding of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is widely credited as the beginning of the national free clinic movement. Dr. Smith charged us with honoring the roots of our movement, and explained that his vision of “free” had not just signified free of cost, but also free of prejudice and bureaucracy.

     On the final day of the conference, the group visited some of the UC Davis student-run free clinics. “The structure of those clinics was different from the BFC,” Alvin said, “because at the Davis clinics, the doctors and health professionals have a central role in providing care, and each clinic caters to a very specific population.” The group toured the Paul Hom Clinic for Asians and Pacific Islanders, La Clinica Tepatí for the Latino community, and the Joan Viteri Memorial Clinic for intravenous drug users, sex workers, and their families. Several BFC alumni are currently involved with the UC Davis Free Clinics, including Dani Wang (IRC), Sabastian Ayala (Lab), and Andy Shen (GMHC).

     Ultimately, we learned a great deal from both the structured events of the conference and the networking that happened naturally. It was inspiring to be in a room full of people who shared our values of accessible healthcare yet took such different approaches to providing that care. I learned over drinks with the representatives of the Lestonac Free Clinic that they offer primary care, specialty care, acupuncture, and chiropractic care to their clients as well as a mobile app that coordinates external referrals. Over lunch, I bonded with representatives from the nearby Rotacare Richmond and the Ashland Free Clinic, and we ended up sharing resources with each other on local referrals. The connections we made and the ideas shared were invaluable, as was the reminder the Berkeley Free Clinic is a part of something much greater than itself.