Free medical clinic running short of its most important supply: doctors

Juan Alcantar’s blood pressure is checked by Sister Rachela

When Juan Alcantar discovered a pain in the back of his head, he
wasn’t sure what to do about it. As one of many local residents
without medical insurance, calling up his doctor’s office to make
an appointment wasn’t an option.
Gilroy – When Juan Alcantar discovered a pain in the back of his head, he wasn’t sure what to do about it. As one of many local residents without medical insurance, calling up his doctor’s office to make an appointment wasn’t an option.

Alcantar, a hard-working father of three who is a food preparer at Gaeta’s Taqueria in Gilroy, waited until a Tuesday evening and went to South Valley Middle School to wait for his turn at a free Rotacare clinic.

The clinic is sponsored by local Rotary clubs and funded by donations. The once-a-week clinic relies on nurses, clerks, translators and physicians among others, to volunteer their time. And lately, the clinic has been short on physician volunteers so they’ve only had one doctor on-site to see to all the patients who show up on Tuesdays.

“It gets hard because sometimes we don’t even have a doctor, or we only have one,” Jerry Pin, a pre-med student who is volunteering for the summer. “Sometimes we have to send people away.”

During his visit, Alcantar was able to see Dr. Michael Matsumoto, a physician at Kaiser Permanent in San Jose. The doctor examined Alcantar during the two hours he volunteered from 6 to 8pm.

Treated for the pain caused by a fatty tissue on the back of his neck, Alcantar was also diagnosed with allergies and sent home with a prescription by the pharmacy technician

“If the clinic weren’t here, because of my income, I probably wouldn’t have done anything,” Alcantar said.

To show his thanks, Alcantar brought dinner for the volunteer staff including plenty of enchiladas, beans and chili verde.

“I am very grateful and thankful to them,” he said. “Everyone treated me well.”

The clinic has been treating patients in the area since 1991, originally working at the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Camp south of Gilroy before closing for a year to find a facility that would be more convenient for patients. The clinic reopened in Feb. 2005 at its current location along Murray Avenue on the middle school campus.

“For the working poor, without health insurance, waiting and hoping is often their only option,” said Mary Rose Delgadillo, Gilroy’s clinic administrator. “Leading to more and sicker patients seeking care at their local emergency rooms.”

Sister Rachela Silvestri, a community health coordinator at Saint Louise Regional Hospital, said for many families children may qualify for medi-cal benefits, but adults do not.

“The cost is so high [for medical care], they can’t afford it,” Silvestri said. “They wouldn’t be able to eat or pay rent.”

Volunteer doctor Manuel Pantiga, a semi-retired physician who works for Rotacare, is helping out at the Gilroy clinic as much as he can for the summer until the South County clinic can find local doctors to sign up for a shift. He finds the experience rewarding.

“I enjoy it. I feel real comfortable with these people,” Pantiga said. “There is a real need for this.”

Pantiga first heard about Rotacare – which runs nine clinics from San Francisco to Monterey as well as clinics in nine other states – when he was working as an urgent care doctor at Kaiser Permanente, Santa Teresa.

“Another doctor mentioned it to me. He said, ‘Why don’t you try it? You speak Spanish,’ ” Pantiga said. The experience is just as rewarding for him as a doctor as it is for the patients.

“I feel real comfortable with these people and there is a need for it,” Pantiga said. “I’ll tell you the difference – they say thank you. They will try to do basically what you want them to do.”

For information on the clinic or to volunteer, contact 779-2116 or 275-8806. The Rotacare Clinic is located at 385 IOOF Avenue, at South Valley Middle School on Murray Avenue, and is open Tuesdays 6 to 8pm on a first-come-first-served basis.

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