Former journalist Linda Feldman had never before tackled the nation’s healthcare crisis — the many millions of Americans who live without health insurance and access to healthcare — when she started her job at the Venice Family Clinic seven years ago.
But quickly, through experience and research and by following seven newspapers a day, she learned.
She became an expert on healthcare policy — bringing national attention to the healthcare crisis as communications manager of the Venice Family Clinic.
Now, after seven years at the clinic, it’s on to the next adventure for the recently remarried Feldman, whose last day of work is Thursday, June 28th.
“You do the work, you set out to achieve what you want to achieve, and then it’s on to the next phase,” said the 66-year-old Feldman. “I’m very excited.”
But the Queens, New York native, who moved to California in 1977, says the Venice Family Clinic will always be a part of her.
Recognized as the largest free healthcare clinic in the nation, the clinic, has 2,402 volunteers and provides healthcare to low-income men, women, children, teens and seniors who don’t have health insurance. Sixteen percent of its patients are homeless.
And annually, the clinic — whose mission is “to provide free, quality healthcare to people in need” — sees 21,938 patients in 112,818 visits.
That mission is what has driven Feldman.
“This place has an impact,” she says of the clinic. “The care and the integrity — this whole atmosphere here created by our doctors and staff — is the rocket fuel I used every day to do this job.”
Feldman says she will miss watching the clinic make an impact on people’s lives. She’ll miss the smiles on the faces of the children whose eyes light up when they are given their first pair of glasses and finally able to see clearly.
“It’s very touching,” she says.
Before coming to the clinic, Feldman, who has two grown children, worked as a freelance writer for 15 years.
She got a gig as a columnist for The Los Angeles Times from 1990 to ’95, a job she called an “absolute thrill.”
“I wrote a column about people over the age of 60 who reinvented themselves,” she said.
For her column, she interviewed all types of people — from author Ray Bradbury to an inspiring holocaust survivor, among many others.
In 1997, she wrote a book with Dr. James Birren of UCLA called Where to Go From Here.
Feldman, who has a bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degrees in elementary education and psychology, has also worked as a teacher and a school psychologist.
But in 2000, just after working on the “Shadow Convention 2000” — an alternative to the major political party conventions — Feldman got a call.
It was the late Irma Colon, who is credited with saving the Venice Family Clinic from shutting down, calling to ask if Feldman would consider a job at the clinic.
“I told her I needed a month to recover [from the convention] and she kept calling,” Feldman said.
Feldman ended up accepting a position with the clinic doing fundraising. Several years later, she would become the clinic’s first communications manager, using the clinic to tell the story of the healthcare crisis — through its doctors and patients.
“I took the job because of Liz Forer [the chief executive officer of the Venice Family Clinic],” Feldman said. “I met Liz and we just hit it off. Liz took a big chance on me. She took a 60-year-old woman from a world that has nothing to do with this [healthcare], so that’s pretty courageous.”
But Forer is glad she took the chance.
“Linda gave above and beyond so that Venice Family Clinic could thrive,” Forer said.
When Feldman arrived at the clinic, she was eager to learn.
“I was thrilled because it was a new adventure and I was learning about a field I had less knowledge about,” she said. “It was extremely exciting.”
Feldman felt she could relate to the healthcare crisis on some level — she had been without health insurance on and off for 20 years.
“I had no idea the extent of this crisis and I think that when I came on board, 43 million people were uninsured,” she said. “When I leave at the end of this month, 46 million people will be uninsured. There’s no healthcare system in this country. It’s broken.”
The crisis has only gotten worse since Feldman started at the clinic, with fewer and fewer people having access to healthcare. And Feldman says that’s wrong.
“People need to have the security of healthcare,” she said. “When we think national security, we should think healthcare as well. Ethically, no one should be refused healthcare, period. And morally, if we consider ourselves a moral country with standards and values, no one should be treated less than anyone else. This country is rich enough to cover everybody. We’re crisis driven. We must.
“My dream is that one day, every single person in the United States of America will have healthcare security and will never have to say, ‘What if?'”
“And no one should be refused healthcare because of their status. It’s in the best interest of everyone that our population is healthy.”
Feldman does believe that healthcare reform, in some shape, will happen. And she thinks the time for change is now.
“Right now, it’s about as bad as it gets,” says Feldman, referring to the healthcare crisis. “Healthcare is no longer seen as a privilege, but as a right, and the country, for various reasons, is now moving in the direction of some sort of universal healthcare.
“If it’s not now, I have no idea when it could be. This is it.”
Feldman said she has learned a lot in her role at the clinic.
“This has been an opportunity where I’ve been able to develop professionally and personally,” Feldman said. “I’ve learned a lot more about myself.”
But now, Feldman says, it’s on to the next phase.
“Liz and I have accomplished what we set out to accomplish six years ago,” Feldman said. “It’s time for me to go.”
She’s excited about what her next great adventure will be.
“I’m invigorated,” Feldman says.