Health FAQ: How do I transition from health care inside to the community?
Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) is a network of community health clinics that serve returning community members. TCN clinic programs are led by Community Health Workers (CHWs) with lived experience of incarceration and reentry and support people with their healthcare and reentry. TCN hosts a monthly Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column, a space where we answer questions about health care and empower individuals to prepare for healthy reentry. This summer we are re-featuring some key articles from past years.
How is healthcare in prison different from health care in the community?
There is so much you give up when incarcerated. One thing is taking charge of your own health care decisions. In prison, ducats are sent, someone escorts you to your appointment, and medications are given at the pill window or dropped off at your cell. In the community, the healthcare system assumes you are independent. Being in the community means you can make personal choices for your care, but you also have more responsibility for setting up and navigating your health care.
Healthcare is not one size fits all. In the community, different kinds of health care are paid for by different types of health insurance, like private insurances, Medicaid (Medi-Cal), and Medicare. You will have a choice about which clinic you go to, your doctor, and when you see them. You may have access to more medications and treatments. But you need to understand your insurance to make sure it will pay for your care.
In the community, not everything is under one roof. You may go to one place for a medical check-up, then another clinic to see an eye doctor, dentist, or mental health. Unlike prison, no one will come find you if you miss your appointment or run out of medications. You may have family members who can help, but you alone are responsible to keep track of your care. Keep in mind, your Parole/Probation Officer is not part of your care team and does not have access to your health information, so will not typically help you with your medical appointments.
You are also in charge of your lifestyle and making healthy choices about diet and exercise. You will choose what you eat and how often you exercise. You may have to figure out how to eat well on a limited budget. There is no set yard time. You must make time for exercise alongside work, errands, and time with family/friends. It can be hard to prioritize your health when you are busy with reentry. Here are information and resources to help!
How do I refill my medications in the community?
If you take medications inside, you will receive a small supply when you leave (usually 30 days). You will need to see a new doctor in the community to get more medications. Primary care providers (PCPs) see patients for staying healthy (like getting “check-ups”) and for treating your everyday health problems (like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and more). PCPs want an ongoing partnership with you, so they know you and understand your needs. Once you have a PCP, they can write a prescription to refill medications. The doctor sends the prescription to a pharmacy of your choice and you will go to the pharmacy to pick it up.
Sometimes people wait until they only have a few pills left or run out of their medications to call the doctor. It’s important that you start the process of finding a PCP and scheduling an appointment as soon as able because sometimes you must wait days or weeks for a first visit with a new doctor. It’s not as simple as putting in a sick call slip. Running out of medications can make your health conditions worse, and we don’t want to see you go to the emergency room to get your medications. Don’t wait to get your health care started in the community!
How do I schedule an appointment with a new PCP in the community?
Call or visit the local social services office in your county to make sure your Medi-Cal insurance is active.
Find a clinic that will take Medi-Cal. Even though there may be clinics right down the street, some clinics only take private insurance. If you need assistance finding a clinic in your community, call our TCN Reentry Health Care Hotline at (510) 606-6400. Or call clinics near you and ask, “Do you take Medi-Cal?” and “Are you accepting new patients?”
Call the clinic to schedule a new patient appointment with a PCP. Let them know why you need to see a doctor to be sure they can help with what you need. If they do not offer the service you need, they may offer you information about another clinic (like for dental or eye care, mental health services, or MAT).
After you schedule the appointment by phone, ask if there are any documents you must bring for your appointment (such as photo ID, insurance card, medication list).
Ok! I made an appointment to see the doctor. Is there anything I should do to prepare?
Write out your questions and concerns before your appointment – It’s easy to forget things when meeting a new doctor. Come to your appointment with a list of what you want to talk about.
Collect important items to bring to your appointment – Plan to bring a photo ID, your insurance card or a copy of any insurance paperwork, proof of your release from prison, a medication list and/ or your pill bottles, and any documents you have about the care you got at CDCR. Doctors in the community do not usually have access to your prison health records, so any information you bring will help them understand how to care for you.
Plan for how you will get to your appointment – If driving or getting a ride, look up directions to the clinic. If taking the bus, look up the route to the clinic and how long it will take to get there. Give yourself enough time to arrive early. Most clinics have you fill out paperwork before your appointment. Most clinics also have a late policy and may not see you if you arrive after your scheduled appointment time.
Check in at the front desk when you arrive at the clinic – Clinic staff will not know who you are when you walk through the doors, so be sure to let them know you have arrived.
Know that waiting rooms can be emotional and triggering for some people – In the community, waiting rooms are usually a large room with lots of people. They can be busy and loud at times, and it can feel overwhelming. Some clinics or hospitals may have security officers. It can help to be prepared that you may feel emotional or triggered in these spaces. Know that everyone is there to help you. Let staff know if you are confused about what to do or need to slow down. Security guards will not be with you when you see the doctor.
I just got released and I’m feeling really overwhelmed. What should my first step be?
Congratulations on returning home and please know that you are not alone! Call our TCN Reentry Health Hotline at (510) 606-6400 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.
We are thrilled to communicate with you inside! If you have healthcare-related questions about reentry, feel free to write us at: Transitions Clinic Network, 2403 Keith Street, San Francisco, CA 94124. Or call our Reentry Health Hotline today at (510) 606-6400 to speak with a CHW and to see if there’s a TCN program in your community of return. We accept collect calls from CDCR. We are open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.