Women of Impact: Ana Ruiz Pena, PA-C, MHA and Karla Rugmas, PA-C, MHA, Founders of Vida Mobile Care
As daughters of immigrants, friends and colleagues Ana Ruiz Pena and Karla Rugmas experienced first-hand the challenges of accessing healthcare and receiving limited health care. When she was a child, Ana’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since his primary language is Spanish, she acted as his translator when he needed help, often accompanying him to his medical appointments. Unfortunately, he lost his battle against cancer when Ana was only 13 years old. His passing set her directly into the path of the medical field.
“He didn’t have bad care, but he didn’t know how to access it, and make sure that he got to where he needed to be. So, I think maybe if things would have been different, maybe he would still be here,” Ana shared during an interview with a local news station.
Karla, born and raised in Los Angeles, is the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador. Her family’s experience motivated her to serve her community.
“Growing up, we didn’t have health insurance and relied on free community clinics,” Karla says. “As a child, I witnessed the struggles my family and parents faced with their limited medical care. At the age of 14, I started volunteering at different hospitals and it was there that I learned what PAs can do. I decided I wanted to go back to my community as a PA and provide quality comprehensive medical care.”
When these two phenomenal women met at PA school, Ana, driven by her late father’s battle with lung cancer, started the conversation about starting a nonprofit to provide medical care to uninsured patients. Karla, having witnessed her family’s struggles, didn’t think twice about saying yes. While at PA school, they constantly heard about patients who loss their jobs or didn’t qualify for health coverage. The duo felt it was their calling help these patients.
In May 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Ana and Karla teamed up and opened the doors of Vida Mobile Clinic, a nonprofit with an office in Granada Hills and a mobile clinic in San Fernando. Both locations provide free medical care to the uninsured and underserved of the San Fernando Valley community. Since their opening, the clinic, volunteer-run and operates on private donations, has provided more than 200 primary care visits to uninsured individuals.
The clinic also serves as a place to mentor future healthcare providers through volunteering and developing their skills but most importantly, it is a place where their patients can feel safe and voice out their needs and concerns.
“It can be challenging due to many limited resources but when, as a community, we work together, we can provide good quality healthcare. It is very important when working with underserved/minority patients to understand each patient’s background, beliefs, traditions, family unit, and struggles,” Karla expresses her thoughts on serving the community. “I think that is why I enjoy practicing family medicine. I enjoy developing strong meaningful relationships with my patients. When patients trust you, they are willing to work harder toward a healthier life.”
While running and operating Vida Mobile Clinic, both Ana and Karla still work full-time jobs, and pay for operational costs out of their own pockets. They volunteer at the clinic on their days off. Though there are some challenges in running and operating a clinic, both Ana and Karla agree that the rewards are greater than any of the challenges, especially when they see a patient’s health improving, or their mentees’ becoming healthcare providers.