UCSF opens free health clinic for workers in Oakland

By Maureen McInaney

A new clinic opened its doors in Oakland this week to provide free health services to immigrant and low wage workers who are injured on the job or who suffer from work-related illnesses. 

“These workers often do the hardest and dirtiest work in our communities,” said Nan Lashuay, MA, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Nursing and director of the UCSF Community Occupational Health Project (COHP).  “These workers have few places to turn when they are injured.  Many are afraid they will be fired or deported if they complain about health and safety problems or try to file worker’s compensation claims.”

The clinic is staffed by faculty and graduate students from the UCSF School of Nursing Department of Community Health Systems and the UCSF School of Medicine Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 

“Our goal is to provide free diagnostic and limited basic treatment services to these workers in a confidential and caring setting,” said clinic co-director, Barbara Burgel, RN, MS, FAAN, occupational health nurse practitioner and professor in the UCSF School of Nursing.  “We constantly see workers who suffer chronic pain, but feel they must continue to work to support their families. We tell them about their health and safety rights on the job and also respect their concerns about job security.” 

Musculoskeletal problems caused by doing repetitive tasks are common among these workers according to Leslie Israel, DO, MPH, UCSF assistant professor of occupational medicine and the clinic’s chief physician.  “Job rotation, proper equipment, simple improvements in workstations, even just taking short breaks to stretch and move around will help prevent further injury. Too often this doesn’t happen. In the worst cases, workers can end up permanently disabled,” she said.

The clinic, funded by The California Wellness Foundation, is part of a larger project to ensure safe and healthy workplaces in Alameda County.  “We are partnering with unions, immigrant groups and other grassroots organizations to get the word out about injury prevention,” said Lashuay.  “We want to develop a model community-based program of prevention,  outreach and accessible clinical care that inspires other local efforts to reduce hazardous conditions for these vulnerable workers.”

The COHP project office is located in Oakland’s San Antonio/Fruitvale district at 2647 International Boulevard, Suite 108.  Clinic hours are on Mondays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Drop-ins are welcome between 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Services are free to workers who earn less than $22,000 per year or who do not have health insurance.  Services are available in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and in other languages by prior notice.

The California Wellness Foundation seeks to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.