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Doctor’s Commitment to Accessible Care Earns Her Recognition

Dr. Athena brasfield in a light blue jacket has been honored for commitment to accessible care
Dr. Brasfield

On May 2, Athena Brasfield, OD, received a Woman of the Year award for her congressional district, for her efforts to make eye care accessible to all.

Dr. Brasfield began her career in the high-tech Silicon Valley area of California, but when she found an opportunity to purchase a practice in the desert Coachella Valley of southern California, it turned around her life’s work and mission.

COMMITMENT TO ACCESSIBLE CARE

Coachella Valley Optometry now has two locations, one in Indio and one in Coachella. She is planning to add a third in a region where there is currently one provider for 30,000 people. She serves primarily Medicaid and Medi-Cal patients, and hers is one of the few practices in the region to do so. Indeed, she may be one of the few private practices in the entire state to be dedicated exclusively to these patients, she says.

Dr. Brasfield at the entrance of the woman of the year assembly where she is being honored, standing next to signage.
Dr. Brasfield at the May Woman of the Year event honoring her.

“I appreciate that doctors will open slots for patients with Medicaid or Medi-Cal, but the need is so deep. We are seeing 100% Medicaid patients, all day, every day with seven full-time providers.” Not only has she “grown very fond of my patients,” she would like other providers to know that it’s possible to thrive with this model.

In a WO story five years ago, A Literal Service Desert: OD Finds Opportunity In Underserved Area, Dr. Brasfield explains that she provides medical eye care and invested in the technology to assist her and the other doctors to be efficient. They each see about 17 patients a day.

ADVOCATING FOR HER PATIENTS

Recently, Dr. Brasfield attended a legislative advocacy day in Sacramento, California. “My assemblymember was impressed with my advocacy efforts on behalf of these beneficiaries. I shared patient stories that children who cannot see clearly are failing in school, drivers have car accidents and people lose jobs when they cannot see,” she told him.

Dr. Brasfield with California Assemblymember Greg Wallis
California Assembly member Greg Wallis, right, presented Dr. Brasfield with the award because of her commitment to accessible care.

She also emphasized the need to raise reimbursements for providers, a move that Gov. Gavin Newsom has included in his budget. His proposal is to increase Medi-Cal rates to match Medicare reimbursements. That increase would help her practice, certainly, but it could also help alleviate some of the backlog for these patients.

Another legislative action that will have a huge impact is that as of Jan. 1, all undocumented immigrants became eligible for Medi-Cal in California.

“That’s what propels me. I’m advocating for the betterment of our district,” she says. Recently, the state of California instituted a minimum wage of $25 an hour for health care workers. While that doesn’t apply to her practice, it affects her nonetheless because she’s competing for qualified staff.

“We haven’t gotten a Medi-Cal increase in 23 years. That’s why the number of providers who accept Medi-Cal is dropping,” she says.

She encourages optometrists to call their state legislatures to advocate for the increase in Medi-Cal reimbursements “so that optometry services do not get left behind.”

Dr. Brasfield, center, with her husband and son at the poster announcing her award
Dr. Brasfield’s husband and their son Cash joined her at the celebration. Her husband, Cullen Brasfield, is general manager of Coachella Valley Optometry.

Take Action: On May 15, the legislature votes. The California Optometric Association has created this link to help advocates reach out to their legislatures.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Brasfield

Read more:

Here’s a California Medical Association announcement on the Governor’s proposed budget.

Here’s a Kaiser Family Foundation story on the law making undocumented immigrants eligible for Medi-Cal.

Listen to a WO Voices podcast with Dr. Brasfield here.

Dr. Athena Brasfield: Success in a Low-income Area

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