Students Run Mabuhay Health Center in SoMa

School of Pharmacy

Need to see a doctor? Need health advice? Where do you go?

The residents of the South of Market (SoMa) district turn to the Mabuhay Health Center (MHC). Mabuhay (pronounced Mah-boo-high) means “Welcome” and “Live long” in Tagalog, one of the languages of the Philippines.

MHC is a student-run clinic run by UCSF medical providers, UCSF health care professional students, and undergraduate, graduate and post-baccalaureate volunteers. The goal is to address health disparities in the community by providing health screenings, medication therapy management and health education to the predominantly low-income Filipino-American immigrant population of SoMa.

MHC is a registered organization with UCSF that receives some funding from the Office of Student Life. However, most of its funding comes from both grants and fund-raisers. The grants include California Campus Compact and the Corporation for National and Community Service, Learn and Serve America. Last year, the group held fund-raising events at The Fishbowl Bar and Grill and Chevy’s in San Francisco, where they would earn a percentage of profits on a particular day.

Every second Saturday of the month, this group of volunteers provides free health care services at the Bayanihan Community Center, located at Sixth and Mission streets. This patient population consists of Filipino immigrants, Filipino veterans from World War II, and their families.

Their health issues include adhering to and complying with their medication regimens and difficulty in fully understanding their health problems.

When patients visit this clinic, they receive undivided attention from the volunteers. The patients are assigned a health coach who guides them through the entire clinic experience, ensuring that they are well cared for and represented.

The health coaches are undergraduate students mainly from UC Berkeley, and post-baccalaureate volunteers. Because many patients only speak Tagalog, health coaches who speak Tagalog help bridge the communication gap between the health care provider and patient.

All patients first receive health screenings, which include blood pressure and blood glucose readings. Health coaches and the medical team then determine what additional services the patient might need. The clinic consists of an inter-professional team of medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students.

With the help of medical and pharmacy preceptors Dr. Ronald Labuguen and Dr. Jennifer Cocohoba, the students work collaboratively to address the patients’ concerns.

MHC provides students an opportunity to improve their interviewing and assessment techniques. “MHC is a comprehensive experience, where I get to implement skills learned as a P1 and information I am learning as a P2,” said Bellamay Montesa, a second-year pharmacy student.

“I also really enjoy working with such a diverse group of students, from med students to dental students to NP students. Finally, I love the patients we get to see. They are always eager to speak with us, and constantly remind me of why I choose pharmacy as a career.”

MHC provides free, healthy food for patients while they wait. Filipino food often contains refined carbohydrates, with minimal nutrients and high fat content. For example, MHC substitutes brown rice for white rice and almond butter for peanut butter.  Volunteers encourage patients to increase the proportion of the vegetables they eat, compared to meat and grains.

Aside from providing medical services, this team connects patients to available resources. A typical MHC patient might be unfamiliar with enrollment criteria for Medicare Part D or special discounted medication programs. Because some patients struggle with English comprehension, volunteers assist in completing forms, which may decrease their health care costs.

In 2012, MHC saw an increase of 114% in patients compared to 2010, according to clinic organizers, who attribute the increase to more publicity and word of mouth by patients.

“One of the most rewarding parts of clinic is seeing a patient’s expression after you help them,” said Clinic Director Mary Margaret Kwong, a volunteer and third-year pharmacy student. “They are so appreciative of your service, whether it’s helping them afford their medications through Patient Assistance programs or giving them a pill box to improve adherence.”

The next clinic is scheduled for Saturday, March 9.