Passionate, strict, dedicated and humble.
These words come up often in conversations about Dr. William Jenkins, the late Richmond-based pediatrician who was honored last Saturday at the grand opening of the new Lifelong William Jenkins Health Center.
“Before there were community health centers, there were individual private docs who worked in low-income communities making health care accessible,” said Lifelong Executive Director Marty Lynch.
“Bill Jenkins was one of the best examples of that.”
Dr. Jenkins, who passed away in 2012 at age 83, is remembered as a hardworking physician who broke down racial barriers and helped Richmond families stay healthy for generations.
In the 1960s, an era of de facto health care segregation, Dr. Jenkins became the first African-American pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital Oakland.
He was “overwhelmingly dedicated to his mission” of treating underserved populations, said his son John Jenkins.
Dr. Jenkins was known for his diagnostic skills and the long hours he kept: 80 to 100 hours a week, according to his son, who estimates that his father saw over 1 million patients in his lifetime.
“When you worked with Dr. Jenkins, you knew you had to sacrifice a lot,” said his longtime office manager, Guillermina Flores, now supervisor at the Jenkins Health Center.
Dr. Jenkins opted out of using an appointment system and instead saw all of his patients as walk-ins, Flores said. She said she often arrived at work to find a line of patients down the block—but despite the volume, Dr. Jenkins never turned anyone away.
“As long as I’m working here,” said Flores about the new health center, “I want to keep up with everything he believed in.”
This also means helping patients outside of the examination room. Flores said a sign in Dr. Jenkins’ waiting room asked kids to bring in their report cards. If they got good grades, he would give them a few dollars from his own pocket.
Inspired by that tradition, Flores and others have set up a small library for children and parents within the health center.
For now, the center sees only pediatric patients, but it will eventually offer dental services, mental health services and services for adults, said Lynch.
Saturday’s open house included free glucose level and blood pressure tests, flu shots, a raffle, music and a local taco truck. Representatives from Blue Shield of California, Contra Costa Health Services and West County Regional Group also attended.
“Our family is tremendously honored to have this facility named after my father,” said John Jenkins.
“What this means is that we will have a permanent source of high-quality health care for Richmond in West Contra Costa County,” he said.