Every Saturday on 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, Clínica Martín-Baró — a self-described “hole in the wall” — is bridging the gap in healthcare for the city’s uninsured Latinx community, offering free medical services to immigrants. 

Founded in 2007 by a collaborative effort between SF State and UCSF students, Clínica was born with a singular mission: to confront and mitigate healthcare disparities. After 15 years of service to the community, it hopes to be an aspiration toward universal healthcare. 

Karina Saucedo, a former SF State student still volunteering as a Patient Advocate (PA) at the clinic, shares a deeply personal motivation behind her dedication. “Throughout my childhood, I witnessed my mom being frequently misdiagnosed and grappling with language barriers. People often offer their interpretations of her feelings and health, leaving me speechless and unsure how to reply.”

At Clínica Martín-Baró, the PAs are indispensable, ensuring all of the referrals, labs, and the virtual pharmacy team have what they need. Most volunteers speak Spanish, which makes patients feel comfortable. However, it’s their profound human touch that distinguishes them. 

“Our role goes far beyond facilitation,” Saucedo explains. “We listen, support, and translate. For numerous patients, we are their only support. During appointments, we are right beside them, not just hearing but deeply empathizing with their pain and challenges, and bearing witness to their journey of vocalizing their emotions and concerns.”

Before the pandemic, Clínica Martín-Baró primarily operated through in-person interactions. Yet, when COVID-19 emerged, it propelled the clinic to transition to a telehealth model that they have now adapted as part of their in-person visits. 

While reminiscing on the pandemic’s emotional toll and profound impacts, Joseph Hernandez, another PA, told El Tecolote, “During COVID, our interactions changed a lot. Calls initially meant for discussing check-ups turned into emotional venting sessions, where people expressed their depression and anxiety.” 

For many students, Clínica Martín-Baró feels like the community spaces they remember from their own upbringings. The clinic’s ethos goes beyond borders and backgrounds, reflecting a shared human need for compassion and care, no matter where one comes from.

“Even though I may not have grown up in the Mission District, the stories I heard resonated deeply. Many mirrored the tales of my family and my neighbors. It pained me to see that so many from our community, those I consider my own, were left in the shadows. The people working tirelessly in restaurants and essential jobs were often the last to receive COVID-19 shots.” Said Hernandez.

Carolina Loaisiga, a former student now residing in Los Angeles, remains an active volunteer at the clinic via Zoom. Speaking to El Tecolote, she emphasized, “We do more than just address symptoms or diseases. At the clinic, we aim to delve deep into the societal factors that impact a person’s health.”

Despite academic demands, volunteers find purpose and a sense of belonging. “Every Monday, we unite to plan and envision,” says Saucedo. “It’s more than tasks; it’s about collective growth.”

Open to forging partnerships with other institutions, the clinic believes that combined efforts can amplify their impact. Their commitment to continuous care heavily depends on donors’ generosity and fundraising events’ success. 

In a world where medical systems often seem impersonal and inaccessible, La Clinica Martin-Baro tries to be there for each patient, whether referring to a cheaper and better specialist or simply holding a hand during a tough diagnosis. The clinic is more than just a medical facility; it’s a transformative educational hub, nurturing students to evolve into relentless advocates for marginalized communities.

“These subtle moments, where a patient feels seen and heard, can sometimes have the most profound healing effect,” said Loaisiga. “Behind every medical chart, there is a human being with their unique journey.”

Andrea Guevara, an assistant clinical research coordinator for Clínica Martín-Baró, stands for a portrait inside the office in the Mission District on August 12, 2023 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Pablo Unzueta for El Tecolote/CatchLight Local

For those interested in learning more about the clinic, its history, and how to support its essential work, you can visit clinicamartinbaro.org. Your engagement can further propel the clinic’s mission, ensuring that even more individuals receive the care and attention they rightly deserve.