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Bringing treatment and hope to diabetes patients in San Francisco

May 31, 2023

St. Anthony’s Medical Clinic – Whole Person Care is our Top Priority

Throughout the month of May, we will be shining a spotlight on St. Anthony’s Medical Clinic. The bustling clinic overlooking the Golden Gate Greenway provides primary and specialty care to those who need it most in the Tenderloin community, serving nearly 2,500 individuals and families through more than 9,000 visits annually. A critical component of St. Anthony’s broad portfolio of essential and life-changing services, the clinic focuses on patient-centered primary and specialty care, with an emphasis on dignity and access. As the hands below the safety net, the clinic serves a diverse population, with 91% of patients living below the Federal Poverty Level.

Jaime Martinez, Diabetes Lead and Medical Assistant, presenting to guests at a diabetes workshop

When San Francisco resident John Castillo was first diagnosed with diabetes, he felt crushed. That’s when he found the Diabetes Care program at St. Anthony Foundation’s Medical Clinic.

The medical staff helped John feel optimistic and got him on a rigorous treatment program. “I learned to accept it,” explains John, 63, a patient here since 2011. “I have to do the footwork. I don’t have to be honest with nobody, but I have to be honest with myself, writing down what I eat, what time and what my insulins were. They do an excellent diabetes program. They care. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

One of the staff members taking care of John is Jaime Martinez, diabetes lead and medical assistant, who’s worked at the Clinic for nearly 20 years. Jaime leads nutrition workshops, provides one-on-one counseling, and reaches out to patients who have complication risks. In the past year alone, he’s helped well over 120 patients with diabetes and prediabetes at the Clinic’s main location at 150 Golden Gate Avenue and at the new Satellite Nursing Clinic at 1064 Mission Street.

“A lot of times patients get depressed when they get diagnosed,” explains Jaime. “My job is to get in there and say, ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ I wish everybody knew it’s something that can be controlled through gradual changes. If they believe it can be controlled, they’ll be more motivated.”

Diabetes is a serious condition which, if untreated, can lead to heart attack, blindness, kidney failure, stroke and lower limb amputation. The most common form of diabetes, Type 2, occurs when the body cannot make or process insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. Unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and obesity increase the risk of diabetes, which affects 37.3 million Americans and counting. What’s more, nearly 96 million adults in America, or one in three, have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news is diabetes can be managed with exercise, a healthy diet and medication. The bad news is the financially vulnerable population is particularly at risk because they can’t access fresh food and afford medical care. People of color also have significantly higher rates of diabetes than do white Americans.

This is exactly why the Medical Clinic’s services are critical to underserved populations. In addition to diabetes care, the doctors, staff and a team of dedicated volunteers offer pediatrics, behavioral health, ophthalmology, women’s preventative health services and more. The Clinic serves nearly 2,500 individuals and families, approximately 90 percent of whom live below the federal poverty level.

People of all kinds come through the Clinic doors. The staff sees immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe who don’t speak English. There are also longtime Tenderloin residents and members of the Mayan community, as well as people experiencing homelessness or struggling with food insecurities and unsafe living environments.

Isabella Duan, Medical Assistant, checking a guest’s blood sugar level

Helping these patients requires empathy and, above all, treatment with dignity. This is why professionals like Jaime are their lifeline. He doesn’t just address the symptoms, but the whole person, reflecting the values of St. Anthony Foundation. Born to Mexican parents in the Bay Area, he understands the background of many of his patients and speaks to them in Spanish, if need be.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to get patients to prioritize their health long term. “A lot of our patients are very family oriented,” Jaime explains, referring to the concept of familismo, a core value in many Latinx and other cultures that puts the needs of the family above one’s own. “They are busy working two jobs. They take care of their children before they take care of themselves,” he says. Many can’t access fresh food; they eat what they can afford.

That’s when Jaime gets creative. Recently, he kicked off a daily walking group to get patients moving, essential to managing diabetes. The group heads down Market Street to the Ferry Building or up a hill to California Street. Even if some don’t like to walk alone, they feel empowered when walking with others who have the same illness. Jaime motivates the walkers by checking their blood sugar levels before and after. To everyone’s delight, the levels drop after they come back. 

He also wants to introduce healthy cooking classes. This requires time, money and staffing, all of which is in short supply. But Jaime still has big dreams for the Clinic’s diabetes program and its 300 diabetes patients needing help. “The patients are what drives me,” he says. “You make a big difference for a lot of folks.”

St. Anthony’s Medical Clinic provides primary and specialty care to the Tenderloin community, serving nearly 2,500 individuals and families annually. We are a safety-net clinic, with 91% of our patients living below the Federal Poverty Level. We focus on patient-centered primary care, with an emphasis on access and dignity. We also provide specialty services, including pediatrics, podiatric medicine, and behavioral health.

Your care and compassion help to ensure that everyone in San Francisco has access to health care. Please help us continue uplifting San Franciscans in need with hope, stability and renewal by donating today.

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