THE BLOG

Clinic by the Bay Is Powered by Pro Bono

12/03/2012 10:43 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

Eliza Gibson is the executive director of Clinic by the Bay, a two-year-old volunteer-powered free health clinic in San Francisco for working uninsured adults. It is based on a national model called Volunteers in Medicine that emphasizes the engagement of retired doctors and nurses to care for the uninsured, and embraces a philosophy that's all about taking care of the whole person, not just the illness. With a huge commitment to not relying on government funding, Clinic by the Bay is 100 percent privately funded and 47 percent of their operating budget is pro bono services, much of which comes from business professionals in addition to medical services. In just two years, they have enrolled over 1000 patients, completed 3600 visits and made 3000 referrals to needed ancillary and diagnostic care. More than 100 volunteers have committed and given over 15,000 hours of service valued at $600,000.

Eliza gushes, "I'm pretty excited that next year I'll get to start measuring how many people have been volunteering two years or more, because we literally have people who have helped build this organization and are still coming to this clinic every single week to help run it."

The reason that society needs Clinic by the Bay, is because it improves our health care system, giving care to those in need. It does so by creating more primary care capacity and adding to the safety net of clinics so that there is more inventory of time available for people to actually see medical staff. "This unburdens the emergency rooms, and frankly gives volunteers an opportunity to practice what we like to call the art of medicine rather than the business of health care. Even with health care reform, which I'm very supportive of, there are still going to be people who are left out," Eliza explains.

In a needs assessment during their start-up, Clinic by the Bay learned that people were waiting sometimes up to nine months for a primary care doctor's appointment. This in itself is a huge medical issue that is currently being alleviated by the success of this organization. Just as unique and interesting about what they do, is how diverse their patient population is. Fifty percent are Hispanic, 38 percent speak Spanish as a primary language, and 11 percent speak Cantonese. They always have interpreters, and as many bilingual/bi-cultural volunteers as possible. Seventy-six percent of their patients are immigrants.

Just two years ago, Clinic by the Bay had a donated project office and only one employee: Eliza. She knew that in order to succeed, she needed to receive pro bono help fast so that she could get the clinic up and running. Her first pro bono partner was a friend who worked with her at Larkins Street Youth Services who helped set up fiscal policies and procedures that allowed Clinic by the Bay to have a functioning organization. dditional pro bono services were soon to follow and with help in finance, accounting, legal, marketing, fundraising and especially technology, the organization was able to launch and operate smoothly. Eliza notes that in particular, Practice Fusion, an Electronic Health Record company, went above and beyond, donating needed equipment and performing customized trainings. These days, Clinic by the Bay has some very profound pro bono partnerships with large medical corporations such as LabCorp, UCSF, CPMC, Walgreens and Health Diagnostics. In the future, Eliza would like to get further pro bono in legal as well as in HR.

Eliza's advice to someone who is starting an organization is to stay focused on the mission and goals, along with the overall needs of the organization. Remaining open and flexible to innovative suggestions is also essential. "It's a very dynamic, interesting, and challenging environment to be in, for sure. Everybody who's here every day wants to be here. I set very high standards for performance. We work hard, but we also have fun."

Clinic by the Bay is a featured organization on our Powered by Pro Bono Nonprofit Leadership Series, highlighting organizations that maximize their impact by leveraging pro bono resources. The series celebrates the launch of Taproot's new book and program, Powered by Pro Bono.