Written by Christina Chang and Jennifer Chiem
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 24, 2022, Tzu Chi Medical’s Northern California Service Center held their annual, large-scale free clinic. The event was held in the newly renovated, multi-purpose Service Center that officially opened in March. Tzu Chi Medical (TCM) has added new services to its clinics, bringing in dentistry and chiropractic professionals to provide a wider range of medical treatments to the communities they serve.
TCM’s Oakland Service Center is located near the city’s Chinatown district. A large percentage of the community’s residents are Cantonese and Vietnamese individuals who are under-resourced and have a lower income. Residents face the barriers of insufficient insurance coverage and a lack of English-language assistance, making it challenging to get proper medical attention when they need it most. The free clinic services provided by Tzu Chi Medical take these unique obstacles into account and address medical needs for people in the community that they would otherwise not have access to.
The medical team enlisted six doctors, two nurses, and 46 volunteers to put on the April free clinic. Having a well-rounded, robust squad on-site streamlined the process and made the event a huge success. During the six-hour clinic, the team was able to help a total of 55 patients who came to seek medical treatment.
Breaking Down the Language Barrier
Tzu Chi Oakland volunteers has consistently worked to immerse themselves in the community, offering their services for the past 20 years. The team has put special focus on understanding the plights of the local Asian population, who have various language backgrounds. It’s clear that communication divides have been particularly challenging for residents who don’t speak fluent English.
Tzu Chi volunteers have provided language assistance to alleviate an unnecessary burden for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). If this obstacle was nonexistent, AAPI individuals (and countless other populations) would be able to have more autonomy when it came to medical care; without language assistance, it is nearly impossible to explain their ailments to providers or receive critical, time-sensitive attention.
Nancy Li, one of the volunteers who coordinated the free clinic, said that since there are many Vietnamese shops and Cantonese restaurants near the Tzu Chi Oakland Service Center, volunteers fluent in the languages went to the establishments to spread the news of the clinic.
Multilingual leaflets were left in the businesses so walk-in customers could learn about the upcoming event. Volunteers utilized the Center’s weekly food distributions to inform recipients about the free medical services. Using innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, Tzu Chi’s team organically advertised the clinic throughout the community.
Community elders who came to see a doctor were warmly received and cared for by Tzu Chi volunteers at the free clinic. Photo/Andy Chiang
An Upgraded Space for Upgraded Care
Dr. Li-Chun Ou has spearheaded free clinics for the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) for more than 20 years. Throughout his two decades of service, Dr. Li-Chun Ou has cared for the people of the Oakland community using Traditional Chinese Medicine to diagnose and find remedies. This treatment modality has helped address the most urgent medical needs of AAPI communities.
Twenty years ago, Dr. Li-Chun Ou lent his clinic space to the Tzu Chi Oakland Service Center as a long-term office. The grand gesture provided the foundational support for Tzu Chi’s foothold in the Oakland community; with a qualified space to practice medicine, Tzu Chi’s medical volunteers could offer the in-depth care that the community’s residents desperately needed.
On April 22, Dr. Li-Chun Ou sat in the consultation room of the renovated Service Center, treating Asian patients and addressing their concerns. He recalled how limiting the clinic’s environment had been before and was glad to see the patient-centered upgrades in the new space. He spoke with mixed emotions: “Tzu Chi’s free clinic has come a long way to have its completed team and an establishment of a Chinese medicine group, which will increase consultation frequency from once a month to twice a month in the future. We have not only holistically enhanced the medical quality of our free clinics but also reached more within the community, which is what I am most happy about.”
Dental Services Fill Insurance Cavities
Tzu Chi’s Northern California medical team sent out a Da Ai mobile clinic to give free dental care during the event. Many people also came to seek dental assistance on the same day. Although many patients who come to the free clinic can qualify for Medicaid, the insurance does not cover dental services. Sometimes people experiencing extreme pain will suffer through it because the intimidating cost incurred is unfeasible. A lack of good oral health can turn bad quickly, severely affecting a person’s quality of life.
Trang Vu, a Vietnamese citizen who came to seek dental treatment, said: “My teeth have been in pain for more than a year, but [Medicaid] does not provide payment for tooth extraction, and I can’t afford the cost of tooth extraction myself, so I have endured the pain for more than six months. When I heard that Tzu Chi Oakland will hold a free dental clinic service, I quickly signed up for a tooth extraction treatment.” Dong Wu, who has had trouble eating for months due to a toothache, also received a tooth extraction at the clinic. After the procedure, he lightly stroked his cheek and said, “I hope I can eat as usual when I get home, without pain. I really appreciate Tzu Chi’s help.”
The new Tzu Chi Oakland Service Center treats much more than physical pain; the medical team and Tzu Chi volunteers offer community members caring words and heartfelt smiles as a form of spiritual healing. Critical medical support is just the start of caring for the community. Tzu Chi Medical wants to instill patients with emotional comfort today and a sense of hope for tomorrow.