Connecting to the care you need and deserve in a timely fashion is important when you get out of prison. There are different kinds of health care you can receive in the community. The kind of care you choose depends on ongoing or new health issues, the urgency of your problem, and your health insurance coverage.
What is primary care? Primary care in the community aims to address your everyday healthcare needs. Each person can select a clinic to call their “medical home” where they pick a primary medical care provider, which may be a medical doctor (MD), nurse practitioner (NP), or physician’s assistant (PA). Your primary care provider will help you stay healthy with routine health exams to track things like blood pressure and weight, and blood tests for conditions like sexually transmitted infections, diabetes, or cancer. Another goal of your primary care clinic is to help you monitor and control any health conditions you already have, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma. Your primary care provider may order medications or suggest other treatments.
What happens if I have special healthcare needs? Sometimes your primary care doctor will decide you would benefit from “specialty care”. Medical specialists help diagnose and treat very specific medical conditions, such as cancer (oncology), diabetes (endocrinology), muscle/bone problems (orthopedist), or skin conditions (dermatology), to name a few. Your primary care provider, who helps organize all your medical care, will typically need to make a referral for you to go to a specialty clinic. Check with your health insurance before seeing a specialist to make sure it will be paid for by your plan.
How do I see my primary care provider? Visits with your primary care provider should happen at regular intervals (every 3 months to a year depending on your health) or if a new problem comes up. It’s good to see the same provider each time so they can get to know you and your conditions. Most of the time, clinics will require a pre-scheduled appointment for you to see your provider, so you must plan ahead to make an appointment before you get low on your medications. Sometimes clinics will offer options for unscheduled “walk in” appointments. While health
care traditionally is provided in person, more options are being offered for “telehealth” — or health visits over phone or video. Telehealth is more common with the COVID-19 pandemic to limit contact, and it can also be a good option if you live far away from your clinic or have limited transportation. If you have access to a phone or computer, you can ask about this option when looking for a clinic. Your new provider may want to meet you in the clinic first before allowing telehealth follow-up visits.
What services are offered at a primary care clinic? The services that are offered will vary between clinics. While some clinics only have medical
care, others might offer additional services like behavioral health (including psychiatrists and counseling), addiction medicine (like medications for substance use such as Suboxone or Naltrexone), dentistry, insurance assistance, or social services. Community Health Workers work at some clinics in the community to build relationships with patients as mentors and advocates. Clinics that are part of the Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) employ Community Health Workers with lived histories of incarceration to help people who are coming home from prison. When you call to make your first appointment, you should ask what services are offered so you know if the clinic will fulfill what you need and want. Also check that they take your health insurance, such as Medi-Cal, because each clinic accepts different types of insurance.
What’s the difference between an emergency department and urgent care? How will I know if I need emergency care? Emergency departments are for when you require immediate care for something that may be life-threatening. Walk-in/urgent care is a middle ground between your primary care clinic and the emergency department, where you can be seen without an appointment for an injury or illness that cannot wait until tomorrow to be treated. Emergency departments are open 24/7 and urgent cares have set hours. Urgent cares have a specific list of conditions they can help with, so they may have shorter wait times. If a new problem comes up and you’re not sure where to go for care, you can call your clinic to speak with a nurse or an on-call provider after hours about your new problem and they can help you decide when and where to be seen. Some health insurances will have specific costs associated with seeking emergency care. Keep in mind that urgent care and emergency departments are not meant to take care of your everyday care.
Getting primary care as soon as you’re out of prison is important to keep you healthy and prevent you from having to seek emergency care. Typically, you will receive only a 30-day supply of your medications to take home when released, so finding a primary care clinic as soon as you can is important to continue your treatments. Activating your health insurance is a necessary first step to finding a doctor; if you have Medi-Cal (free public health insurance) you will need to call your county to let them know you are out so they can turn it on for you. Then call to make a primary care appointment as soon as you can, because sometimes you must wait to see a provider and to get your medications refilled. If you need specialty care, seeing a primary care provider as soon as possible is especially important so they can connect you to the specialist you need. The nurses at CDCR as well as the Transitions Clinic Network can help you plan for your health care after release
TCN is a network of community health clinics serving returning community members. TCN programs are led by Community Health Workers who support returning citizens with their healthcare and reentry needs.
Please contact us if you have healthcare questions related to reentry, or to find out if there’s a
TCN program in your community of return.
Transitions Clinic Network
2401 Keith Street
San Francisco, CA 94124
JPAY Email: TCNinfo@ucsf.edu
TCN Hotline: (510) 606-6400