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Making Good Use of AARA Funding: Frank Kiang Medical Center

This is the first in a series of blog entries highlighting communities around the country who make an impact in the areas of Healthy Communities, Sustainable Living, Education & Economic Opportunities, and Civil Rights for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is tasked with improving the quality of life and opportunities for all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We have organized our work into the following "progress pods:" Healthy Communities, Sustainable Living, Education & Economic Opportunities, and Civil Rights. Below is the first in a series of blog entries highlighting communities around the country who make an impact in these areas.

The patient who walked through the brand-new doors of the Frank Kiang Medical Center was a young Cambodian woman living with Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, and asthma. The last regular doctor's appointment she had was with her pediatrician several years ago, but she "aged out" of his practice and no longer had a primary care physician. Her sister, who accompanied her to the Medical Center, said she had been waiting a long time to see a doctor because she was uninsured, and could not find a doctor accepting new patients. She expressed her gratitude for the new clinic, and for finally being able to get primary care.

As this story shows, the challenge to provide healthcare to all Americans begins and ends in our communities. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and 2010 Affordable Care Act provided a unique opportunity to align funding and policy to serve those who have long been medically marginalized. For Ms. Sherry Hirota, stimulus funding from the ARRA paved the way for a new community health clinic to reach low-income Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Alameda County. Ms. Hirota is the CEO of Asian Health Services (AHS), a Federally Qualified Community Health Center in Oakland, California, that works with residents unable to access care due to language, cultural, and financial barriers. Although AHS serves 27,000 patients annually, it still has approximately 2,500 residents on its waitlist. A third of AHS patients do not have health insurance, 70% are below the federal poverty level, and 85% do not speak English. On June 1, 2010, Asian Health Services took a step closer to meeting the community's growing demand for services by opening the Frank Kiang Medical Center.

The Frank Kiang Medical Center is one of four AHS satellite clinics, and connects patients with health services ranging from perinatal care to geriatrics and everything in between. Like the rest of AHS, the Medical Center specializes in providing culturally competent care through trained "patient navigators" who collectively speak seven Asian languages in addition to English. Center Director Dr. Kimberly Chang says that the clinic is designed to help patients develop a network of support through health coaches who provide one-to-one lifestyle counseling and group visits where several patients come together to learn about topics such as nutrition, exercise, and chronic disease management from clinic staff. "The community's reaction to the new clinic," Dr. Chang said, "has been overwhelmingly positive."

Funding for the Frank Kiang Medical Center was made possible by $1 million in ARRA funds and partnerships with the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and the County of Alameda Health Care Services Agency. The federal stimulus money was used to upgrade an old building into state-of-the-art facility and hire sufficient numbers of culturally competent staff. Ms. Hirota said that the ARRA funds were "essential" to make the Medical Center a reality, and helped bring the newest technology into exam rooms. One novel use of the funds was for building exam rooms larger than the ones found in standard hospitals. According to Ms. Hirota, refugees and immigrant patients often come to their doctor's appointments with their entire family and/or interpreters, so rooms need to be large enough to accommodate several people. She hopes that the new Affordable Care Act will pave the way for expanding or starting community health clinics with a similar focus on cultural competency for AAPIs.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders recognizes that there is still a great need for more models of culturally competent community health providers around the country, and is focused on growing communities that are safe, strong, and healthy. The Initiative's Healthy Communities Pod aims to reduce health risks while promoting healthy living through urban farming, youth programs, and AAPI-focused health centers. By collaborating with federal agencies, we will connect resources with community health providers and highlight the work of successful models like Asian Health Services. Its Frank Kiang Medical Center demonstrates the powerful impact that targeted federal resources can have in changing health outcomes for our most underserved communities, and the individuals who belong to them.