By Valerie Hamilton
The kitchen at San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital is a little different from other hospital cafeterias in the city. The commercial steel kitchen range where you might expect big vats of orange hospital Jell-O to be stewing is here topped with industrial-sized woks. Cooks hired from local Chinatown restaurants are frying Chinese broccoli, onions and noodles.
Larry Loo was born in Chinese Hospital. Now he’s the director of business development for Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP), the HMO affiliated with the hospital and 15 clinics around San Francisco. CCHP has 15,000 members. More than 90 percent of them are Chinese Americans.
But that may soon change. CCHP is one of 11 insurers statewide — along with big names like Kaiser and Anthem Blue Cross — vying for new customers on Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace.
The hospital and the health plan have made their name providing what’s called “culturally competent” care to patients from the city’s Chinese community. That goes beyond stir-fried hospital food. Here, people speak Mandarin and Cantonese, the plan covers Eastern medicine, and staff understand Chinese patients’ attitudes about health and medical care.
“The reason we’re even here is because the Chinese community always had a tough time getting access to care, getting access to doctors that speak their language and understand their needs,” Loo explains.
The health plan’s roots go back more than 100 years, to a time when widespread racial discrimination meant San Francisco’s Chinese were excluded from mainstream health care. The community founded its own medical dispensary in Chinatown to meet the need. That grew into the Chinese Hospital and later, in the 80s, into the Chinese Community Health Plan. Continue reading