By Elaine Herscher, Senior Communications Editor
This is part of our ongoing series profiling LifeLong’s health centers. It’s a way for us to highlight what makes each site tick and the things that make each one of our health centers unique.
Think of Over 60 as LifeLong’s “flagship” health center. Over 60 was the brainchild of the Gray Panthers, who in 1976 created a clinic in Berkeley that would fill the unmet need for healthcare for low-income senior citizens. It would be 20 years before Over 60 would merge with Berkeley Primary Care Access Clinic to form LifeLong Medical Care.
Today, Over 60 has 2,280 patients on its roster, with about 500+ of them transferring from Ashby Health Center, which closes its doors in February.
LifeLong’s longest-operating health center is helmed by folks with extensive experience at LifeLong – and with older patients. They say caring exclusively for elders comes with particular challenges and rewards.
“I think if you go into geriatrics you had to have had some elder you were close with. I always had neighbors — and my grandparents, I was very tight with them,” says Associate Medical Director Jenny Parma, DO, who has been at Over 60 for eight years. “In geriatrics, every patient has a story, and their stories are long, diverse, and interesting. It’s not just managing medicine. It’s talking about their life and how everything intersects with their healthcare.”
“Patient listening” are the watchwords for Center Supervisor Susan Ross, who has 12 years at LifeLong. Over the years, she’s given patients her direct line and some even have her personal cell phone number. “We try to treat our patients like they’re our grandparents, aunts, uncles, our parents,” Susan says. “Some of them don’t have anybody. And sometimes just a friendly hello goes a long way for these patients.”
The pandemic was hard on every patient, but it was particularly rough for seniors, Dr. Parma says.
“I think the pandemic affected seniors more than other people because they relied on the community of the clinic for their mental health and socialization. A lot of our seniors became isolated, and we now know it as a disease when we don’t socialize,” she says. “And then on the staffing side, people aren’t going into healthcare as much. So, across the board, we’ve lost providers and staff.”
Center Director Ericka Garcia-Maldonado, who is in her 24th year at LifeLong, says some offerings, such as the veggie giveaway and the diabetes support group, have returned, and the staff is hard at work prepping for an influx of patients from Ashby. Associate Medical Director Jessica Liu is expected to return from maternity leave next month, and Over 60 is bringing in more per diem providers and working to fill vacant positions. The health center will also see an increase in some services, such as podiatry and acupuncture.
“All the clinics have challenges, but we experience a lot of loss very often because our patients are older. “We get very invested in their lives,” Ericka says. “It takes a lot of heart to work at Over 60.”