Amazing Grace

“Grace Hughes is a great Marin citizen,” says Bob Derzon, a longtime Marin resident and former director of UCSF Hospitals and Clinics. “First she spearheaded raising $9.5 million and now that the Marin Community Clinics in San Rafael is open, she’s working overtime to launch their new facility in Novato.”

Some would say Grace Hughes (pictured above with clinic visitor Tina Alvarez) never quits. The recently retired CEO of Marin Airporter (the Larkspur-based provider of transit to and from SFO) now chairs Marin Community Clinics’ Capital Campaign Cabinet. At press time that committee had upped the ante from $9.5 million to $10.8 million in order to complete a new Novato health care clinic by December 31. Why the rush? Because the federal government considers Novato (thriving local economy notwithstanding) a “medically underserved” community. And finishing by year’s end qualifies the facility for an annual $600,000 in federal operating funds, starting in 2009. “It will happen,” the ever-optimistic Hughes declares. “We’re going to make it happen.”

Though clinics for the underserved have existed in Marin in various guises since the early 1970s, only in the ’90s did they become a businesslike operation, with trailers that opened near Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae; these became the original Marin Community Clinics location. “By 1995 we were accommodating 31,000 patient visits a year,” Hughes recalls. “And the name Marin Community Clinics was adopted in 2001 to reflect our three sites—Greenbrae, San Rafael and Novato.”

“I want to make this clear,” she adds. “Marin Community Clinics are not free clinics. Our patients pay either through Medicare or Medical, their insurance provider, or on a sliding-scale cash basis.”

Clinic services are available to Marin’s estimated 42,000 low-income people who are “uninsured, uninsurable or, at best, underinsured,” also sometimes referred to as “Marin’s hardworking poor.” According to recent surveys, 85 percent of the clinic’s patients hold jobs, but cannot afford health insurance. (Other stats: A third of patients are children; $15,430 is the average annual family income; 60 percent are Latino and 20 percent Caucasian.) Such patients pay a minimum of $30 per visit for treatment that costs approximately $150 to deliver. But no one is denied care for lack of funds, stresses Hughes.

The recently opened 11,000-square-foot San Rafael facility at 3110 Kerner Boulevard near the Canal area has 18 exam rooms and a state-of-the-art dental clinic—all done in subtle hues with tasteful signage that seems to inspire respect and appreciation on the part of all who enter. “We couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” Hughes says with a bright smile on her face. Staff includes 20 primary care physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, administrative staff and numerous specialists who volunteer their time.

Formerly an office building for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, the space cost $5.6 million to reconfigure, a project funded by a cross section of Marin donors including Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, the Marin Community Foundation and numerous family foundations and individuals such as the Cahill Family Foundation, Dr. Melvin Grais, and Louis Greissberger, DDS. “The generosity of so many Marin residents fills my heart with gratitude—it really does,” Hughes says.

The forthcoming Novato facility, at 6100 Redwood Boulevard near Rowland Boulevard, will have 14 examining rooms, four counseling rooms, a laboratory and a dental clinic. “At 9,500 square feet, it’s over twice as big as the (San Rafael) facility—and will be more accessible to our patients,” Hughes says. “But we still need over a million dollars to open the doors to this very worthwhile project.”

The Novato location is expected to see 15,000 patients a year. In all, including the original Greenbrae clinic (which will become a facility for specialized treatments), Marin Community Clinics will serve an estimated 30,000-plus patients making over 100,000 visits to the three locations by 2010.

In the year she’s been chair of the Capital Campaign, $10 million in contributions have come in from every level and corner of the community. “For the past 25 years, the Marin community has supported my business,” notes Hughes. “Now, working like this in support of the Marin Community Clinics is my way of, well, balancing the books.”