Struggling to afford healthcare is an is still all too common reality for the most vulnerable in California. Whether it be working a job where their employer offers no insurance, or being unable to afford to see a doctor – over 3.2 million Californians lack health insurance and struggle to see a doctor. Since 2011, the dedicated volunteer doctors, nurses, and support staff at the RotaCare Pittsburg Free Medical Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul have been helping the uninsured in Contra Costa County access healthcare, see doctors, and stay healthy. The free medical clinic has been able to help thousands of Californians improve their health, and it has only been possible due to the amazingly compassionate, dedicated and caring volunteers that made the free medical clinic a reality. Dedicated individuals donating their time, talent and treasure, like retired Registered Nurse Angela Rivello, not only helped establish and build the clinic, they helped ensure the clinic could continue helping people today, over a decade later.
“The clinic is like my baby, I’m so happy to see it thriving and succeeding,” Angela said. “The patients we would help were so lovely and kind. It is hard to describe how good it felt to be able to help them heal and get healthy. There just isn’t a more rewarding experience.”
Growing up, Angela said her parents were incredibly devoted Catholics who believed wholeheartedly in helping those in need. Angela said she always looked up to her father for volunteering his time to help those in need. Angela’s mother was a nurse, and her helping care for the other people in their apartment complex so impressed Angela, that she would grow up to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As an adult working as a registered nurse for Kaiser, Angela said it seemed like a perfect fit when she was recruited to help St. Vincent de Paul establish a free medical clinic for the uninsured in Pittsburg.
“In 2010, my dear friend and SVdP Board President Jim Noe asked if I could help SVdP establish the free medical clinic and recruit volunteers. With over 20 years in adult medicine, it just seemed like a perfect fit for me. I had always wanted to help the poor from a street level clinic ,” Angela said. “It was exciting, we were talking to clinics and doctors, helping recruit people, and creating the routines and procedures we would use to help people in need. It was such an incredibly rewarding experience.”
Thirteen years later, Angela’s work to establish the free medical clinic at SVdP, continues., The free medical clinic endures as an essential resource for the most vulnerable in Contra Costa County, having provided over 14,500 patient visits. The volunteer doctors and nurses help the most vulnerable receive treatment for their ailments, and receive the medication they need to get healthy – all free of charge. Thanks to the dedication of the free medical clinic’s supporters and volunteers, like Angela, uninsured residents in Contra Costa County do not need to make impossible choices between paying rent or seeing a doctor.
Angela was an essential part in the clinic’s establishment. Her knowledge as a registered nurse was an essential tool in the search for dedicated doctors and nurses to volunteer at the free clinic. Angela was key in recruiting the clinic’s current Volunteer Medical Director, Dr. Jane Hewitt.
“Visiting other clinics that serve the uninsured was eye-opening, it really helped us see how our clinic could help people,” Angela said. “There are a lot of people who want to help others, we were able to show them that they could be medical missionaries in their own backyard. Angela volunteered as a nurse at the free medical clinic from it’s opening, until she had to step away during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At one point, Angela was volunteering 20-30 hours per week at the clinic to help it get on it’s feet.“I definitely miss volunteering at the free medical clinic, but today my calling has to be to be there for my family,” Angela said. “But I have so many amazing memories of helping people. Whether it be extremely grateful patients bringing food and cards for the volunteers, or just seeing people love their relatives enough to make sure they never have to visit a doctor alone, it’s all stayed with me and are memories I’ll treasure forever.”