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New free telehealth program offers services for ‘the forgotten middle’
Known as Sonja Cares, the program started offering free telehealth services for 1,500 local residents on Monday (Photo contributed).

A no-cost telehealth program is now available for local residents thanks to a partnership with Legacy Health Endowment and virtual healthcare provider Hello Alpha.

Known as Sonja Cares, the program started offering free telehealth services for 1,500 local residents on Monday. The program will last for one full year, with each participant eligible for up to 12 telehealth consultations. Services encompass primary care, urgent care, women’s healthcare, and more.

Sonja Cares is accessible through smartphones, iPads, laptops, or computers, enabling communication via secure messages without the need for face-to-face interaction or high-speed internet connections.

Specially designed to meet the needs of “the forgotten middle,” according to Legacy Health CEO Jeffrey Lewis, Sonja Cares is an innovative solution for accessible, equitable healthcare. The forgotten middle is made up of individuals and families who don’t qualify for Medicaid (in California, Medi-Cal) yet face financial hardships with their healthcare.

In a survey of the communities it serves, Legacy Health Endowment discovered that 8 out of 10 residents skipped or delayed seeking their own medical care or filling a prescription to make sure that a child, spouse, or partner could access healthcare services. Nearly half (48%) said that the cost of their annual deductible has had a large effect on their decisions about seeking healthcare.

Sonja Cares aims to ensure immediate access to medical providers for these overlooked communities. It provides comprehensive care for more than 100 medical conditions and help address acute care needs before they escalate into chronic issues. Enrollment is open to adults who live in one of the 19 zip codes within Legacy Health Endowment’s service area.

Staying true to the promise of being more affordable, prescriptions will be sent to Tower Pharmacy, where patients will be charged $2 for their medication.

“Sonja Cares seeks to remove geographical barriers through telehealth and overcome the common tendency among adults to prioritize their children’s healthcare needs over their own, thereby jeopardizing their own health,” Lewis said.

Gloria Lau, founder and CEO of Hello Alpha, said telehealth can play a critical role to bridge gaps in healthcare accessibility by offering comprehensive primary care via messaging with no appointment necessary. Hello Alpha's holistic approach to care — backed by dedicated primary care providers available 24/7 — aims to provide compassionate and quality healthcare without the inconvenience of appointments, travel, or waiting rooms.

“Getting compassionate, quality healthcare can be a pain,” Lau said. “The average wait time to see a primary care provider (PCP) in the U.S. is 26 days -- and that’s if you have a PCP to begin with. That’s where Hello Alpha comes in. We offer truly accessible and comprehensive primary care via messaging, with no appointments needed. Whether a patient isn’t feeling well because of an urgent issue or they need care for an ongoing chronic condition, Hello Alpha takes a holistic approach to care with a dedicated PCP available 24/7.”

Sonja Cares is named in honor of Sonja Ann Iltis, a Turlock resident and longtime volunteer at the Emanuel Cancer Center. She was a founding member of Emanuel’s Cancer Awareness Night Out committee. Iltis died of cancer in 2016.

Sonja Cares is just Legacy Health’s most recent effort in its goal of making healthcare more affordable and accessible to all and filling the gaps in local healthcare.

Earlier this year, Legacy Health started a free vision care program for public school students, launched a nursing scholarship program to help rebuild the Central Valley’s nursing infrastructure and brought neurology services to rural parts of Stanislaus and Merced counties.