Loretta Medellin, AHS Homeless Health Center Co-Applicant Board (CAB) Chair, has been an AHS patient for a number of years and strong patient advocate. She was a high school teacher until an unexpected health condition changed her social circumstances.
According to Loretta during a trip to her daughter’s wedding she developed a blistering rash that soon evolved into a very aggressive skin infection. She shared that the condition would not heal and became so disabling that she was forced to go on disability.
“I taught high school for 25 years. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t love going to work. It was very difficult to have to leave something you love and look forward to every day,” said Medellin.
Due to its unrelenting nature, she would eventually lose her job and health insurance. She had already lost her home in the 2008 market crash and was now forced to live in a hotel for 10 months while she fought to return to health.
“I look back and it feels implausible, unbelievable. Everything you cherish can be stripped from you in a matter of a week. I never imagined that I would end up living in a hotel,” said Medellin.
Fortunately for Medellin, she qualified for HealthPAC medical coverage and began to receive care at the Highland Wellness Center. Through the support of her primary care doctor, she was able to avert a catastrophic amputation.
“The whole ordeal lasted five years. I was told I would have to have my leg amputated because the pain management was so difficult. This was shocking! I spoke to my primary care doctor and let her know I was not ready. My brain simply could not accept the fact that I might be losing my leg,” said Medellin. “My primary care provider referred me to the Creedon Wound Care Center. I recall her saying, if anyone can help you, they can.”
After 10 stem cell transplants Medellin’s wound healed and her skin began to grow back. Throughout treatment, she was determined to learn what resources were available to her and she began sharing what she discovered with others including her provider, staff and other patients.
Because of her fierce advocacy and desire to learn and share, her PCP began to invite her to meetings. In 2014, Loretta joined one of the three Patient Advisory Groups at the Highland Adult Medicine clinic.
Over the years Loretta and the Patient Advisory Groups collaborated with staff on improvements to the clinic that personalized care for patients. Projects included using a patient’s full name when being called into an exam room and ensuring that informational handouts were not only available in multiple languages but could accommodate patients who could not read.
“It’s the little things that matter. Everyone needs to be trained to be sensitive and compassionate to people that are different than them. I have seen the clinic change so much for the better and I know hospital ratings have changed,” said Medellin.
Joining the CAB
Medellin found a way to link her compassion for patients and desire to serve by joining the CAB in 2019 where she is currently the Chair.
“Finding housing for people is dear to my heart. I always try to keep an eye out for housing opportunities. If people don’t have a place to go, a place to feel safe, it’s like they are 50% defeated,” said Medellin.
According to Medellin, when she met Dr. Damon Francis, Medical Director for the AHS Homeless Health Center, she was very pleased. “I really liked how knowledgeable he is on chronic medical illnesses and his experience with the unhoused. I can tell that is where his heart is. That makes me feel like I am in the right place, with the right people because their goal is to get the unhoused the care they deserve,” said Medellin.
The CAB recently created a three-year strategic plan for the Homeless Center and one of the first steps was to look at data.
“I was surprised to learn about how much the African American community suffers in healthcare and in homelessness. Having the data unveils who is getting help and how they are getting that help. It was eye opening,” said Medellin.
The Homeless Health Center Strategic Plan has identified three priorities:
- Maximize the care that people experiencing homelessness receive for acute and chronic illnesses at the earliest opportunity, and in the locations and settings that work best for them.
- Ensure sustainable funding and infrastructure to support existing and expanded services.
- Create strong and lasting relationships between care teams and people experiencing homelessness at every opportunity by following up on identified housing and primary care needs.
The AHS Homeless Health Center is a virtual health center within AHS’ Ambulatory Care. It provides primary care, behavioral health, dental, specialty and urgent care to people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Approximately, 6% of all ambulatory services at AHS are provided to people experiencing homelessness.
Alameda Health System thanks Loretta for advocating for our most vulnerable patients and serving as the Chair of the Homeless Health Center Co-Applicant Board.
Patients and community members are invited to join Loretta on the Co-Applicant Board by completing an application and submitting it to the Homeless Health Center.