Health crisis in Oakland

Esther Romo volunteering at the Allen Temple Baptist Church Health Fair on August 10, 2019.

High health insurance costs have intensified the public health crisis in Oakland. Many people prefer not to go to doctors, and wait for the free health services Allen Temple Baptist Church provides each year. Unfortunately, some people never make it. 

According to a 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health, 44,789 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance in the United States. In addition to the lack of medical insurance, the high cost of coverage for insured people contributes to the crisis of access to health care.

“It’s been harder in this couple of years for people to get insurance,” Esther Romo explained. She was born and raised in Oakland and has volunteered at the church’s health fair each year for the past 15 years. “I pay $150 per month for my insurance, where it used to be free insurance. And then, a copayment was $10, and now I pay $35 every time I visit a doctor. When I have to take my son to the emergency room, I pay $150 for each emergency room visit, last year I paid more than $600 for emergency room visits.”

Romo likes to help her community and thinks that Oakland has a bad reputation. But she also believes that it is because people judge the city by its crime rates, instead of taking the time to meet the people of the community. She explains that they join together, Hispanics and African-Americans, and work to improve Oakland. 

Every day Allen Temple provides a bus for homeless people to shower, provide new socks, clothing, and underwear. Romo has been a member of the church for 21 years and believes that there are now many more homeless people everywhere since rent and insurance have higher rates. She’s seen the number of homeless people coming to Allen Temple increase.

In addition to Allen Temple’s daily services, once a year they provide a free health fair to the community. This year, Romo, along with Allen Temple members and more than 200 volunteers, served the community. They delivered more than 420 backpacks with school supplies to the children. Families enjoyed live music, horseback riding, games and raffles. Many children and adults took advantage of free haircuts. What Romo finds gratifying is that this movement provides a brief financial relief to those who need it in Oakland.

For those who do not have health insurance, or who are insured but pay high costs. At the fair they can find free: eye exams, physical exams, mammograms, HIV test, haircuts, dental exams, school supplies and backpacks. In addition, they also educate teenagers about health and self-care, through different hands-on activities. Romo feels motivated because last year, one of the 18 women who had a mammogram detected early-stage cancer.

In addition, there have been years when they need to take people to the emergency room due to low blood pressure. 

During the fair, community members are encouraged to donate blood to the red cross. And everyone is welcome to participate and receive services at no cost. The health fair takes place every August.

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