Does anyone have the local healthcare situation figured out?

Hi.  This is kind of an odd question but I think this Berkeley forum could be a great place to sort this issue out.  I've lived in Berkeley over 20 years.  Over the last few years I have found accessing healthcare to be WAY more difficult than it should be.  I had an hmo.  Now I have a ppo and it is no better.  I get my list of providers from the health insurance company and go down the list. Doctors seem to be working out of two or more offices, mostly outside of the Berkeley/Oakland area; usually east of the tunnel or SF. Appointments are booked up.  And often I hear that doctors are no longer taking new patients.  This is across the general and specialty areas.  The few doctors I might be able to access are ones who are poorly reviewed, or NP's in situations where I really need an MD.  I am wondering if doctors are actively avoiding this Berkeley/Oakland area? My insurance switch didn't seem to fix anything.  So I'm wondering, does anyone in this geographic area have this healthcare thing figured out?  Is there some particular type of insurance that is good in this geographic area?  Is anyone else experiencing this?

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

You have posed the question of the post-pandemic era!

Others may have good specific recommendations. But I will just say that even with our top-of-the-line Medicare + supplemental coverage, the health care situation does indeed suck.

In the beginning there were two models:  Alta Bates, with various doctor partnerships, and Kaiser. I will speak to the former.

Alta Bates started out great, then it was acquired by Sutter in the early 1990s, and promptly started going downhill.  This is not to say that there are not excellent doctors who are in the Sutter system. And yes, lots of them have one office in Oakland/Berkeley and another in LaMorinda.  But the parsimonious management of Sutter has often resulted in labor disputes over understaffing.

At some point patients started to leave Sutter and go to either UCSF or JohnMuir Health.  Stanford, sensing the opportunity to pick up market share, started to court some of the best doctors in this area, to entice them to affiliate.  This was about 2014.  Stanford moved into a pair of big buildings at 5800 Hollis in Emeryville.

(Helpful hints:  don't try to park in their interior garage unless you have a tiny car. There is street parking.  And don't try to call on the phones; the call center is in Palo Alto.  And don't get me started on their awful patient portal.)

But issues with Stanford in the East Bay soon appeared.  If a patient had a condition warranting hospitalization, there are no Stanford hospitals nearby.  In theory, the patient could check in to any hospital and the Stanford-affiliated GP would interface with a "hospitalist" at the non-Stanford hospital.

Ultimately, even before the pandemic, it seems that Stanford did not do a great job of supporting their doctors.  Mine, for example, jumped ship to John Muir.

For people like me, who are picky about what doctors we see, John Muir is IMHO the best:  good medical professionals and a closed-loop ecosystem.  The drawback is that you have go through the Tunnel, which was burdensome on family members when I needed surgery and ended up in Concord.

To find specialists, I use word-of-mouth, BPN, and (surprisingly accurate) Yelp-dot-com.

For people who don't want to navigate the health system, there is Kaiser, which has many beneficial aspects.  Still, when my daughter (a Kaiser patient) needed an MRI, she had to travel from Oakland to outer Richmond.

The Bay Area has excellent availability of top-quality care, so with a little research and a willingness to leave unsatisfactory providers and health plans, a patient will do fine.  The Wine Country, too, is a place where doctors want to reside, so I would be confident that good care can be found there as well. But Sutter in the Santa Rosa-Cloverdale area does indeed get poor reviews among my circle of friends.

Happy hunting, and be well!

A lot of people have quit clinical medicine. I work at a safety net clinic and we can't hire people. I was at an appointment at Kaiser yesterday and the doctor was saying they can't hire people either. It's not just doctors - the medical assistance who check your vitals and room you, nurses, front desk staff - it's all short-staffed. If someone has recommendations of practices or places where they've avoided this problem by all means, take advantage of that. But it's happening both locally and nationwide, so it's pretty widespread.

Hi, I am curious to see if anyone else has answers to these questions! I have Kaiser and was considering a switch because there are essentially no doctors available in Berkeley/Oakland. After my last doctor left Kaiser, I was recently assigned to a brand new doctor who is only a resident and has no certifications or reviews. I would like to have a doctor with some experience. The only alternatives are both osteopaths and not MDs, which I'm skeptical about. Kaiser is a huge organization in this area - what is going on? It sounds like there's no point switching to a different insurance, since people seem to have the same problems there. Has anyone had luck finding a personal physician lately, and if so, with which insurance?

Hi I’m a doctor so I see this problem from inside the system. Our health system is collapsing. So many providers quit during COVID, others got burnt out, health systems are asking more and more of us and now patients are angry and frustrated they can’t be seen and are taking it out on the ones who are still practicing. Everyone I know had left or is on the verge of leaving for a non clinical job. Our health system is set up in a way that abuses workers and providers and it’s becoming increasingly obvious as things fall apart. 

My doctor said the average age of a primary care doctor in SF is 65.  His practice is full.  I think what you are describing is a universal problem, as the previous posters said.  I think the doctor who posted that it's a systemic problem that makes it hard to practice medicine, is correct.