SF Free Clinic Wins USF California Prize for Service and the Common Good

The USF community celebrated the work of Drs. Richard and Patricia Gibbs, co-founders of the San Francisco Free Clinic and recipients of USF’s 2013 California Prize for Service and the Common Good, last Tuesday Oct. 29. The welcoming reception took place in the Atrium Lobby of Lo Schiavo, followed by a dinner gala event in a large white tent on Welch Field, just outside St. Ignatius Church.

Over 300 guests attended the celebration, including 22 USF Trustees, three past California Prize recipients, and the San Francisco Fire Chief.

The University awards the California Prize each year to an organization or individuals that “contribute significantly to the quality of life in our community, especially the poor and the marginalized,” Father Privett said before presenting the couple with the prize.

Before Drs. Richard and Patricia Gibbs opened the San Francisco Free Clinic, a clinic dedicated to providing medical care to the uninsured, the couple looked at the work they were doing in their successful private practice and decided they were catering to the wrong population.

“Almost one out of four people in San Francisco have no health insurance,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, who, as a private physician, could only tend to insured patients before opening the free clinic. “When we looked at that statistic, we got the idea to flip the shingle around and went non-profit,” he said.

Dr. Patricia Gibbs said she and her husband felt bad, as “there were plenty of doctors to take care of the insured patients, but the uninsured were going without care.”

The clinic, located on California Ave. between 11th and 12th Ave., is home to over 70,000 patients that have been treated with quality care and otherwise costly medications, free of charge. The clinic as a whole has agreed to not accept public funding, keeping grant writing and administrative duties between the doctors and nurses to avoid extra costs, explained Dr. Richard Gibbs. “We can deliver a lot more medical care for a lot less money: we stay totally out of politics and we don’t have to accept any government directives; we can treat anyone who comes through the door,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs.

Not only does the clinic provide preventive and primary medical care to uninsured patients, it also educates future medical practitioners to advance the field as a whole.

“We have about 24 students from Yale’s School of Medicine, six from USC, eight or nine from UCSF, in addition to medical residents from California Pacific Medical Center and UCSF,” Dr. Richard Gibbs said. “What we offer is training and primary care, which is really hard to get ahold of in medical school.” The SF Free Clinic trains their medical practitioners in areas of gynecology and orthopedics, in addition to standard training; some of which is not readily available when attending medical school.

Joined by members of their staff, Drs. Richard and Patricia Gibbs accepted the award on behalf of “everyone who has made the clinic what it is.” Dr. Richard Gibbs said, adding that “the clinic is not a place, it’s people.”

After expanding in 2000, the SF Free Clinic now has 135 physician offices. As to where their patients would be without a free clinic, Dr. Patricia Gibbs thinks there would be more people going into the emergency room, less people taking their medication, and ultimately more patients with financial hardships.

“We see a lot of people that have a chronic medical condition who have lost their insurance and have stopped taking their medicine,” she said. Their conditions could have spiraled out of control to the point of having to visit the emergency room — “but luckily they came to us before that happened.”

Dr. Richard Gibbs emphasized that medicine is not a business of the masses, but a business of one on one. “The most important thing is focusing on that one person. If we could just get more people doing that, we could take care of the masses that need it,” he said.

The crowd was energized throughout the night of the event, with the help of Master of Ceremonies Renel Brooks-Moon, also the PA announcer for the SF Giants. After Drs. Patricia and Richard Gibbs spoke on their appreciation for the prize, the room filled with laughter as Brooks-Moon said, “If you are not inspired, I would like someone from the clinic to come check your pulse tonight!”

Student volunteers serving on the USF Philanthropy Committee, sophomores Megan Kenney and Natalie Gallo, were invited to the event to represent the USF student body. “We are working to create awareness about the importance of donations to USF and raising money to provide scholarship support for our fellow students,” said Kenney.

They were both inspired by the event. The prize is a great idea, Gallo said, “for those who have reached what most of us are striving for here at USF” — a passion for helping others.

The Dean of the School of Nursing, Judith Carshmer, tied the award back to USF students by speaking on the importance of the service learning requirement, and the goodness of service as a whole and as the cornerstone of work done at SF Free Clinic.

“USF has completed over 400,000 hours of service to the community of San Francisco. We apply our classroom scholarship to issues that concern the real world,” said Carshmer, who honored the nursing students who have had the opportunity to work not only with the free clinic, but also in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Tenderloin and Rafael House, so as to “intervene in people’s lives right where they’re at.”

At the end of the night, MC Brooks-Moon honored a long list of sponsors who made both the event and the clinic possible. “This is not the end of a celebration, but an invitation to do more,” she said.

Dr. Richard Gibbs said that when they opened the doors of the free clinic, they were never expecting to see so many people in San Francisco without health insurance. How they handled it, he said, was to, “offer them dignity and good health, a whole person kind of life.”

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