Addressing the root causes of health disparities and improving outcomes for people impacted by systemic inequities
Raised in Oakland, Dr. Noha Aboelata returned to Alameda County after medical school to address health disparities among African American residents and their root cause: poverty. As a family practice physician and later Chief Medical Officer at Oakland’s Native American Health Center, Dr. Aboelata found the standard 15-minute patient visits insufficient to address the full range of her patients’ issues. So, in 2008, she founded Roots Community Health Center (Roots) to provide whole health care to those who lacked safety net services and access to traditional support systems — primarily African American men, including those re-entering society from prison — to help facilitate their journey toward self-sufficiency. Roots has since expanded to serve women and children and provides primary care, navigation services, and employment opportunities to individuals and families in Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Roots’ active clientele exceeds 10,000 — 89 percent are African American, evenly split between men and women, and largely Medi-Cal recipients. Roots’ holistic approach is enhancing accessibility and consistency of care and enabling Dr. Aboelata and her colleagues to connect patients to a range of resources that support their health, stability, and overall wellness.
It takes a lot more than a doctor and an exam room to bring health to our community.
– Dr. Noha Aboelata
- In Alameda County, African Americans experience more extensive health challenges than other residents. For example, African American residents are twice as likely to deliver low birth-weight babies, live with diabetes, have high blood pressure, and succumb to drug overdose deaths than the overall population of Alameda County.
- African American residents in Alameda County are nearly three times as likely to experience chronic, preventable hospitalizations than white residents.
- The life expectancy for African Americans in Alameda County is 76, a full seven years less than the overall county population.
- African Americans in Santa Clara County are more likely to experience cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious health problems. Local leaders report that Santa Clara’s African American population faces significant barriers to accessing health care, including a lack of culturally competent care, mistrust of medical practitioners, and a lack of services for people experiencing hardships like homelessness and incarceration.
- Roots finds and serves clients where they are rather than treating only those who proactively walk through the clinic door. Through STOMP (Street Team Outreach Medical Program), Roots’ health care practitioners deliver weekly care, including substance abuse treatment, HIV care, and other medical services, to unhoused people at the various places they reside.
- Roots engages formerly incarcerated people in the parking lot as they depart Santa Rita Jail, providing care and navigation services to nearly 1,000 recently released persons in 2020.
- Roots reaches community members through barbershops — trusted community spaces for African American men — through its “Cut Hypertension” program. Roots trains participating barbers as certified health coaches who then provide cardiovascular outreach, dispense health advice, and link clients to health and social services.
- In 2013, Roots launched its Emancipators Initiative, a social enterprise that employs Alameda County residents through two manufacturing entities. Providing paid on-the-job training and ongoing employment, Roots’ “Clean 360” designs, fabricates, packages, and markets artisanal soaps and other hygiene products for individuals, government entities, and businesses. Roots’ Hamilton Broadway Signs helps participants build skills in sign production, across a wide variety of materials, for clients large and small. These social enterprises help people with barriers to entering the workforce establish positive employment histories.
- To support Roots’ programs, Aboelata has innovated a financing model that incorporates alternative funding sources and leverages proceeds from social enterprises to support critical programs for which government funding is traditionally unavailable.
- In 2020, Roots provided nearly 16,000 clinical visits, conducted 5,000 service navigation and coaching visits, provided more than 6,000 meals to community members in need, and distributed more than $600,000 to prevent the evictions and displacement of 261 clients.
- Since 2019, STOMP has provided more than 1,200 clinical visits to unhoused people — preventing 120 emergency department admissions and connecting more than 100 people to navigation services through which they accessed food, housing, and employment.
- Roots’ two social enterprises train 50 apprentices annually, nearly all of whom secure and retain post-program employment. Between January 2019 and June 2021, the manufacturing entities earned $360,000.
- Seventy eight percent of the 475 formerly incarcerated people Roots served in early 2021 participated in at least two follow-up clinical visits, a high medical visit adherence rate for a population facing notable barriers.
- Roots plans to educate policymakers about the importance of removing barriers to state and federal resources that community-based health care providers (i.e., non-County, non-Federally Qualified Health Centers) encounter when establishing programs focused on community health and wellness needs.
- Roots hopes to influence institutions such as schools and hospitals to practice socially responsible procurement by purchasing goods from community-based social enterprises like Roots’ Clean360 and Hamilton Broadway Signs.
-  Healthy Alameda County
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  The Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of the Silicon Valley
Video by Talking Eyes Media
Roots Community Health Center
Primary Regions Served
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.