A new three-story $13 million clinic was added to Lifelong Medical Care's West Berkeley facility. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A new three-story, $13 million clinic was added to Lifelong Medical Care’s West Berkeley facility. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of Lifelong Medical Care’s new West Berkeley clinic, and for many of the dignitaries, it was a reunion of sorts.

Amid speeches about the glorious new building and the patient-centric care it will foster, came memories of Berkeley in the 1970s and the push to revolutionize health care.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Arnold Perkins, the former director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, and Lifelong CEO Marty Lynch all referred to the period 40 years ago when there were multiple pushes to bring medical services to various underserved communities.

The Berkeley Free Health Clinic had been founded in 1969, followed by the Suitcase Clinic, the Over 60 Health Center, Berkeley Primary Care Clinic at Herrick Hospital, the West Berkeley Health Center and others. Many of the clinics merged over the years (others are thriving independently) to form Lifelong Medical Care, which now serves more than 50,000 clients a year in three counties. Many of those dignitaries had worked in the health care reform movement.

Lifelong CEO Marty Lynch, left, addresses the crowd. Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, City Councilman Darryl Moore, and Roberta Brooks, capital campaign chair, all wait their turn to speak. Photo: Pete Rosos

“Well before the Affordable Care Act was a reality, Berkeley has been seriously engaged, Berkeley has been doing its best, to actualize that health care is a right and is accessible to everyone,” said Skinner, who then jokingly referred to the people in the room — once radicals – as “the establishment.”

The new $13 million, three-story clinic at 2031 Sixth St. is designed to treat the whole patient, not just his or her specific ailment. On each floor there is a “pod” (really an elongated office) with long counters, multiple computers and chairs. Exam rooms are right near by. The ideas is that all the people who treat patients are in close contact so they can easily confer on the best treatment. For example, if a doctor determines a patient has diabetes, she can immediately put that client in touch with the person who runs diabetes or healthy cooking classes. If the patient needs a blood test, the doctor can send him to the blood lab – right down hall.

The new clinic is also completely computerized, which should assist in patient care. For example, the scales and blood pressure cuffs are connected to the computer system, so a patient’s vital signs are automatically fed online. While Lifelong staff took the blood pressure of 100% of the patients previously, the information only got recorded about 80% of the time, according to Dr. Ron Adler, who serves on the board. Now all that information will be available for perusal.

The new clinic has “pods” where doctors, medical assistants, social workers and others can work side by side so as to facilitate an integrated approach to a patient’s medical care. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
The waiting area for patients. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
An exam room at the new Lifelong clinic. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The new clinic is also decorated with art, which is one more way Lifelong provides a full experience to patients. The art is curated by three volunteers and changed regularly. Kaiser Permanente Foundation donated the mural the wraps up and around the main staircase. It is dedicated to Dr. Henrik L. Blum, an emeritus professor of health administration at UC Berkeley and a pioneer in health care reform. He served on Lifelong’s board for many years.

The Baca family told the crowd at the dedication how Lifelong has helped them. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Officials and staff cut the ribbon to dedicate the new clinic. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Rafael Baca and his wife and daughter spoke at the dedication ceremony and thanked Lifelong staff for improving their lives. Baca said he had diabetes and “everybody here is helping us.”

Roberta Brooks, who chaired the capital campaign and was a former aide to Lee, reminded the crowd that Lifelong is not well known among Berkeley’s affluent population. They don’t really know where the poor get their health care. She urged those in the audience to spread the word about Lifelong, as it will need operating funds to run the new clinic.

Berkeleyside was the event’s media sponsor.

See more photos of the Lifelong Medical Care grand opening celebration.

LifeLong Medical Care celebrates renovated Berkeley space (02.28.14)
Lifelong Medical Care gets $1.1 million federal grant (05.29.12)
Lifelong Medical Care: helping the community for 36 years (03.05.12)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...