Linda McCormick of Fix Our Ferals
Most days Dr. Desmond Carson scarcely has time to take a break in the fluorescent-lit emergency room at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. The sick and injured stream in continuously. Carson handles everything from gunshots to heart attacks to chickenpox, seeing three or four patients an hour. About one third don't have insurance. Federal law dictates that they must be examined, and the center turns no one away. No insurance, however, almost invariably means no payment. "Try going out to dinner without paying and see what happens," Carson says. "We give away health care." He estimates he could nearly double his income -- and do away with the $100,000 he still carries in student loans -- if he moved to an ER in a more affluent part of town. But that doesn't interest him. Having grown up in a working-class Richmond neighborhood only blocks from the center, he always planned to return from out of town after medical school and residency to serve his community. And besides, it's not as if the money's terrible. Carson drives a nice big Chevy truck. "I never wanted a Mercedes anyway," he says with a laugh.