The Berkeley Free Clinic was founded in 1969 as a "street medicine" clinic that quickly found a niche and a permanent home in the Berkeley community. It has become an icon in the area, and has served countless thousands in a variety of ways during its 40-year history.
Fees have never been charged for any services, materials, medications or supplies provided at the Berkeley Free Clinic. Income has been generated solely via individual or organizational donations and government programs.
An emphasis on education, self-knowledge and an increasing awareness of appropriate resources infuses all of our medical, dental, counseling, and information/referral services. Direct services are provided almost exclusively by volunteer lay health care workers. Volunteers receive extensive and specific training in classroom and clinical settings. Whenever possible, our goal is to demystify health care and other human services, both for volunteers of the Clinic and for clients.
At the Berkeley Free Clinic, we treat each client with respect and dignity and view their needs within the larger context of their unique circumstances and access to resources. Treatments, referrals and guidance are provided in a client-centered context, and are appropriate to their lifestyle, culture, language and financial situation. We attempt to include clients as thoroughly as possible in their health care process.
The mission of the Berkeley Free Clinic is to empower individuals and communities by providing accessible, client-centered health services and information.
Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Our approach to healthcare is guided by:
Our vision is a community that is empowered to sustain its own health.
Since the Clinic opened, there has been an ever-present need for its services, albeit a dynamic need, as social conditions have undergone shifts and changes. It has become something of an icon in the area, and has served countless thousands in a variety of ways during its 40-year history. Its founding principles and structures survive to this day:
- Health care is a basic human right and should not be linked to profit.
Fees have never been charged for any services, medications, or supplies provided at the Berkeley Free Clinic. The Clinic relies solely on individual or organizational donations and government support. We are one of the only clinics in California offering primary health care free of charge. We maintain that health care should be available at a level and quality sufficient to meet the basic needs of everyone regardless of race, gender, age, immigration status, income level, or any other characteristic. Our philosophy is that health care is a right, not a privilege. We are strongly opposed to health care delivery as a profit-making industry.
- A great deal of health care knowledge can and should be available and accessible to individuals such that they can have the power to recognize and respond to their own health issues.
All services at the BFC emphasize education, self-knowledge, and increasing awareness and access to appropriate resources. Whenever possible, our goal is to demystify health care and other human services, both for the volunteer members of the Clinic and for clients. We believe that individuals and communities should be educated and empowered with regard to their health care. In practice, this means that we emphasize education and offer referrals to help meet any needs that are outside the scope of our services. We attempt to include our clients in their own care by inviting their input and observations, and by fully describing possible solutions to their concerns.
- Health care should be broadly defined and considerate of the whole being and environment, not simply a response to isolated symptoms.
We view health as encompassing the total well-being of a person including physical, emotional, and environmental needs. In all our services, we strive to relate to clients as human beings, each with unique circumstances, resources and needs. Our health care providers involve clients as thoroughly as possible in the health care process in order to best educate and develop appropriate plans for each individual. One of our major issues of concern has been the balance of control in the provider-client interaction. Much of our struggle has been to develop alternatives to the tendency in the human-service industry to require that the client give control of the management of her physical and mental health into the hands of "experts" taken on faith. Confidentiality is another major sub-issue within that broader issue of control. Our volunteer-controlled collective has voted to sacrifice many hundreds of thousands of dollars in available government funding opportunities which would have required that our clients' identity and personal histories --including whatever labels have been slapped onto them by professionals-- be shared with government funding sources and other programs.
- In keeping with the goals of individual empowerment and the building of healthy communities, locally-based organizations should enable worker participation and responsibility.
The BFC has operated as a worker’s collective since its inception. Every volunteer has membership in the collective, and has the right to a voice and a vote in all-decision making processes that affect both their specific service area as well as the entire Clinic. Many of these Clinic volunteers move on to further their knowledge and contribution in the area of health in a variety of capacities throughout the local area, the country, and the world.