By Joseph Porrello | Richmond Pulse
The LifeLong Medical Care Williams Jenkins Health Center held a building dedication ceremony coupled with a community tour Sept. 17 in Richmond, following a wait of more than two years to hold the celebration.
“We’re fortunate to have this high-quality care in the community that isn’t going away any time soon,” said John Jenkins, LifeLong board of directors member and son of the late Dr. William Jenkins, one of the first African American pediatricians in Richmond.
Attendees of the event were given guided tours of the $23 million facility after listening to speeches and information about the center’s services.
“We just want to keep getting the word out to people that we’re here,” said Sylvia Hacaj, LifeLong’s director of communications and developments.
The health center began serving the public in January 2020 but never had a ribbon-cutting event or dedication due to the pandemic starting almost simultaneously with its opening.
“COVID-19 made things pretty difficult for us. I mean, this dedication was supposed to happen two and a half years ago,” said Nathan Stern, associate medical director.
According to LifeLong CEO David Vliet, no employees were laid off because of the pandemic. And the employees of LifeLong did not wait long to start helping those in need, despite the adversity.
“We just hit the ground running and were one of the first places in the community to start doing COVID testing…” Hacaj said. “For me, it was a baptism by fire. I learned a lot of things really fast.”
Since opening, the Williams Jenkins Health Center has served close to 100,000 patients throughout an unprecedented time, many of whom lack other healthcare options because of their economic status.
“As always in community health, our folks here rose to the occasion,” said Vliet.
“We have urgent care, primary care, dental care, and if you don’t have health insurance, come to us, and we can get you enrolled in various programs,” said Hacaj.
The center follows in the footsteps of Dr. William Jenkins, who served roughly 1 million predominantly underprivileged patients in Richmond and Oakland over the course of his career.
“Somebody once described my father’s work as a radical form of social justice. I love that description,” said John Jenkins.
“He was a pillar in this community,” added Vliet.
In 1973, the elder Jenkins opened the first African American-run pediatrics office in Richmond and continued serving the West Contra Costa community for nearly 50 years. He briefly joined LifeLong before his death in 2012 at the age of 83.
“He would not turn anyone away that needed help… When you’d drive down Cutting Boulevard, children would be lined up around the corner and across the street to see him, and that inspired me,” said Dr. Brazell Carter, an internal medicine specialist in Richmond who has almost five decades of experience in the field himself.
LifeLong of Richmond looks to facilitate the creation of more like-minded individuals in the medical field with its Teaching Health Center, which houses a family medicine residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
“The exciting thing is we’re raising up a new generation of providers,” Vliet said. “This [residency program] really assures that we have a pipeline of physicians that come from our community, to serve our community.”
The newest LifeLong Health Center also assists the community by offering services such as prenatal care, acupuncture, pediatrics, psychiatry and an on-site Quest laboratory. The center additionally hosts a veggie giveaway Wednesdays and free tai chi classes and Zumba on Thursdays.
As a whole, LifeLong Medical Care operates as a nonprofit community organization with a network of healthcare centers providing a wide range of services. The company started in the Bay Area and has practiced here for over 45 years.
According to Stern, they hope to host more community events at the Richmond center now that the pandemic is mostly over and get more specialists to come in weekly or monthly.
Furthermore, Stern says the new facility is working on a medical legal partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid to try and expand the social services they offer at LifeLong. The center has also partnered with a lab at UC Berkeley to assist them with COVID-19 testing.
The LifeLong team and William Jenkins Health Center have come a long way since design discussions for the building began in 2016. The Richmond Planning Commission approved plans to replace 4,300 square feet of mobile buildings on the premises with a 33,742-square-foot health center. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in February 2018.
The existing clinic on the property remained operant during construction by employing a phased design approach. Erecting the building was SPGA Architecture & Planning of San Francisco, a U.S. Green Building Council Member and Certified Small Business Enterprise.
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” Vliet said. “The beautiful, three-story, colorfully painted building is augmented by the beautiful artwork you see from a local nonprofit called NIAD [Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development].”
NIAD staffer Arden Fredman told Richmond Pulse last year that the work of artist Carlota Rodriguez was chosen as the inspiration for a mural that was planned for this LifeLong center.
LifeLong hopes to utilize the state-of-art-facility and its moral foundation by addressing the gap in people’s access to medical care along with continuing to assure they push back against health disparities in the community.
“We’ll look at the data, and I’m almost certain we’ll be able to see that we’ve had the kind of epidemiological impact on the community that we should have and that they deserve,” said Vliet.
The LifeLong Medical Care William Jenkins Health Center is located at 150 Harbour Way in Richmond and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Fri. Omicron-variant booster shots are now available on site.