*Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) hosts a monthly reentry health-focused Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column. This column answers questions regarding healthcare in reentry. Our goal is to provide information and empower individuals to prepare them for healthy reentry. In our last column, we talked about how to apply for Medi-Cal (health insurance). But that’s just the first step to getting the care you need and deserve. This month we will talk about how community healthcare is different from prison healthcare.
How is healthcare in prison different from healthcare in the community?
There is so much you give up in your life inside, one of which is to take charge of your own healthcare decisions. For example, ducats are sent, medications are at the pill window or dropped off to you at your cell, or someone will escort you when it’s time for your appointment.
In the community, the healthcare system assumes you are independent and that means you are responsible for setting up your own healthcare. You get to choose who your doctor is, when you want to see them, which clinic to go to, and much more. You will have a voice in choosing your medical treatment. Healthcare is not a one-size-fits-all. There are different types of healthcare under private insurance and even under Medi-Cal. And not everything is under one roof anymore. You may go to one place for your primary care while your eye doctor and dental are located in different parts of the community.
Unlike prison, no one will come find you if you miss your appointment or run out of medications. You alone will be responsible of keeping track of your care. Reminder: your Parole Agent is not part of your care team and does not have access to health records and therefore will not help you with your medical appointments.
You are also in charge of your diet and what you eat. No one will be giving you a limit on the food you can buy or how it affects your health. You will also get to choose when you exercise. There is no set time for “yard” and the amount of exercise is contingent on work, errands and family and friends. You will have to develop a new exercise routine and keeping healthy is about making time for your new workout routine.
How do I refill my medications in the community?
You will need to see a doctor first and then they can write a prescription for that medication for you. The doctor will send the prescription to a pharmacy and then you’ll have to go to the pharmacy to pick up the medications.
On the morning of your release when you sit in R&R, the discharge nurse will provide you with 30 days of your medications. Once you’re released, it is up to you to refill those medications.
It’s important that you see a doctor and get a prescription before you run out of the medications you were released with. Establishing care in the community takes time along with getting your health records from CDCR. There is no time limit like inside where they have to see you within two weeks. It is not as simple as putting in a sick call slip (7362).
Remember, your doctor now not only serves formerly incarcerated people, but the entire community population. The faster you can establish care, the better you will be in your transition. Your health is not a waiting game anymore.
How I can schedule an appointment to a primary care doctor in the community?
• Call or visit the local social service office in your county to make sure your Medi-Cal insurance is active
• Find a clinic that will take Medi-Cal. Even though there might be clinics down the street from your residence, some clinics will only take private insurance. If you need assistance locating one in your community, reach out to us on the TCN Reentry Health Hotline at 510606-6400. Once you find the clinic that accepts Medi-Cal, call them to schedule a new patient appointment to see a primary care physician.
• After you schedule the appointment over the phone, ask the receptionist if there are any documents you need to bring in preparation for your appointment (photo ID, insurance card, etc.)
• Ask them what other services they offer at the clinic. If you are in need of other services, they may offer it or will give you a referral to what you may need, e.g. dental, optometry, mental health services, and/or MAT.
Ok! I made an appointment to see the doctor. Is there anything I should do to prepare?
Here are a few helpful tips:
• Write out your concerns. Sometimes it’s easy to forget things when you’re overwhelmed or stressed. Before your appointment, sit down and write out what your concerns are and bring that list with you to the appointment.
• Bring your release paperwork, ID, paperwork relating to Medi-Cal, medical records, list of medications, or any pill bottles you have. Medi-Cal is not active until you are back in the community; therefore, the enrollment department may not have you in their system yet. You are establishing healthcare as a new patient and therefore need to supply the clinic with much information about yourself and your medical history. Doctors in the community usually do not have access to your medical records from prison. It is important to bring any information you have to your appointment as this helps the your doctor understand your current health conditions and how to continue your treatments and medications.
• Make a plan for how to get to your appointment (bus, car, family, friends, etc). Give yourself enough time to arrive at your appointment ahead of time. Most clinics have a late policy and if you arrive after that time, they may not be able to see you.
• Check-in with the front desk when you arrive at the clinic on the day of your appointment. Clinic staff will not automatically know who you are when you walk through the doors, so it’s important to check-in and inform the staff who you are and that you have arrived for your medical appointment.
• Waiting rooms can be emotional and triggering; sitting in the clinic’s waiting room can be emotional. Inside, waiting rooms are often a cage or a bigger cell. In most clinics in the community, it is often just a large room filled with lots of everyday people and children. It can be overwhelming to be in such a loud and bustling environment.
As a heads up, some clinics may have deputies or security officers on site. It can be triggering to see these officers, but do not be thrown off by them! They are often present for the safety of everyone in the clinic rather than being present because of you. They will not be in your visit with the physician.
I just got released and I’m feeling really overwhelmed. What should my first step be?
Call our TCN Reentry Health Hotline at 510-6066400 to speak with a formerly incarcerated community health worker who has been in your shoes and can answer all your questions about how to get medical care in the community.
JPAY Email: TCNinfo@ucsf.edu Mailing Address: Transitions Clinic Network 2401 Keith Street San Francisco, CA 94124
We accept collect calls from CDCR. Open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.