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Ritter health center deserves our support

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Since my last post about the Ritter Center, I’ve had a chance to meet with some of its leadership team, and come away impressed with their ongoing efforts to address community concerns while pursuing improvements to health care delivery to the most vulnerable citizens of Marin County.

Balancing needs in a complex environment is never an easy task, but the Center’s efforts are immediately visible. If you drive by the Campus these days you’ll see a friendly uniformed Safety Officer greeting clients at the gate and assuring that everyone will have a safe and comfortable experience at the Center. Somewhat less visible but equally important is the new Community Outreach employee who is walking the campus and the neighborhood.

Ritter Safety Officer

I’m convinced the new medical module deserves enthusiastic community support. It will provide patients with a dignified and appropriate setting to receive vital health services.

I hope you’ll join me in e-mailing the San Rafael City Council at Esther.Beirne@cityofsanrafael.org. Your comments will be reflected in the Council’s records and will help assure approval.

Ritter health center’s critical need

Diane Linn, executive director, and Cia Byrnes, health clinic administrator at the Ritter Center, have written an opinion piece that clearly describes the Center’s current activities and goals. It deserves a careful read. It’s also featured in today’s MARIN VOICE section of the Marin Independent Journal.

RITTER CENTER has served Marin’s low-income, working poor and homeless residents for more than three decades and has enjoyed the strong support of the community over those years.

Our mission is to work with and for the community to help our neighbors who are at risk of losing their housing and to help stabilize the currently homeless population by providing necessary support, services and housing options. It is no understatement to say that the economic climate of the past four years has delivered a devastating blow to many Marin residents.

Because of a recent appeal, the San Rafael City Council will consider our use permit application, which was supported by the city Planning Commission, for a new medical module to improve our health services.

As the executive director and health center administrator and family nurse practitioner at the Ritter Center health clinic, we have seen the numbers of people who are suddenly without health insurance or any means to manage their chronic medical illness rise more than 15 percent in the past three years. While the Rotating Emergency Shelter registration program on Third Street has made the county’s chronically homeless population more visible, the real increase in patients being seen at the Ritter Health Center is more attributable to the changing fortunes of many of our Marin County residents — those who find themselves without the resources to pay for their insurance or afford the medications and treatment their existing conditions require.

The use permit application for an additional modular building is not a request for expansion, but a request to accommodate the existing health center patients in a more appropriate clinic space. With more dedicated clinic space and waiting room, Ritter Center will be able to provide more indoor waiting space for the clients who are using the day service center (showers and laundry facilities) and significantly decrease the numbers of people “hanging out” on the street during the day.

This use permit request is not about the larger and much more complicated issue of how to manage chronically homeless people in San Rafael. It is about providing health care to those in need, in a space that is accessible, safe and appropriate for their treatment and care. Currently, these patients are sharing a six-by-11-foot waiting room with clients who are waiting for laundry and showers.

Many times, there is no space to turn around in that area, much less manage to enter with a walker or cane. Waiting for a “drop-in” clinic appointment can often mean a 45-75 minute wait in a severely cramped space, something not many of us would tolerate in our own medical provider’s office.

The new modular building will provide patients with a dignified and appropriate setting to receive vital health services.

In addition to serving as the primary care home for fragile homeless clients, Ritter’s Health Center treats seniors with a Medicare “share of cost plan” that they cannot afford, the newly unemployed and (thus uninsured), and low income wage earners who are employed without health insurance.

As parents and active members of this community we realize — and share — the surprise and dismay at the visual reminder of the conditions of chronically homeless people here in San Rafael. The addition of a new modular clinic is just one step in a comprehensive plan to address the issue.

The disapproval of this additional space to accommodate the existing need would in fact pose a new and unnecessary obstacle to the development of a successful plan to improve the services provided at Ritter Center and reduce the negative impact on our city.

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Written by Ron Greene

March 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

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