Not only did Dr. Vives lead the Kaiser Martinez site to the top position in his service area, but he also steered his facility towards becoming one of the top performing sites in the Kaiser Northern California region. Of note, Northern California Kaiser has one of the few health plans that have received a five-star rating in the United States.
Dr. Vives moved in the 1980s from Manila to San Francisco where he earned his degree in biology at San Francisco State University. After a brief stint as a cell and molecular biologist, he decided to pursue medicine and went to the UC Irvine School of Medicine where he received his medical degree.
“Medicine has always been a fascinating field for me. I grew up with family members who have been in healthcare industry, greatly affecting my choice to pursue a career in the medical field,” he stated.
“When I was young, my doctor relatives would bring me to the hospital on the weekends when they rounded with their patients. Those encounters were my first glimpse of what it is like to be a doctor. Growing up, I enjoyed science subjects, particularly biology. When I went to college, I concentrated on physiology. After graduating from college, I worked as a cell and molecular biologist at UCSF [University of California, San Francisco]. Although conducting scientific experiments was exciting, I knew that I would be happier working with people. I applied to medical school and got accepted at the University of California, Irvine. I completed my residency at this university as well.”
Serving the Community
After his residency in Irvine, Dr. Vives moved back to the Bay Area and settled in Martinez where he works at Kaiser Permanente as a family physician. He chose Kaiser “because the group is able to offer many services, whether they are primary care or specialty care needs.” He also “liked its newly implemented electronic healthcare records, which makes accessing medical information so much easier, thus, facilitating better communication between patients and their physicians.”
Dr. Vives served as former Co-Medical Director of the Weight Loss Management in Kaiser Martinez and Colorectal Champion in Kaiser Permanente in the Diablo Service Area. He is currently the Quality Champion in Kaiser Permanente Martinez, where he also holds clinic. These functions have helped him fulfill part of his goals to educate and guide patients in their pursuit of healthy living as doctors nowadays are no longer just providing healing and treatments, but also counseling of and closely monitoring patients to help them manage a healthier lifestyle.
Assigned to coordinate staff on site to focus on quality patient care and monitoring their adult patients’ chronic medical conditions, Dr. Vives continues to find ways to successfully run this center from the perspective of both patients and doctors. “With Kaiser Permanente health care plans based on metrics and providing 5-star insurance coverage, this program is not a cake walk,” according to Dr. Vives.
After spending the last eight years in adult medicine at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Vives has come to the understanding that the burden is on doctors to both (1) treat patients with goals of being a leading health care provider in Martinez and surrounding areas and (2) also score high among medical insurance plans as far as health coverage.
In the Bay Area which has a very diverse ethnic population, he believes that the approach should also be honed into specific cultural needs in order to give appropriate care for all patients.
“Before we can prescribe or initiate lifestyle changes and educate our patients, doctors also need a fair amount of cross cultural awareness,” Dr. Vives stated.
Factors Contributing to Unhealthy Diets
In his 30 years of living in the US since he migrated in 1986, and growing up both in the Philippines and US, Dr. Vives has a vantage point from both cultures. He points out that Filipinos are intrinsically westernized as our culture has been infused by Western influences. Therefore, we have the best of both worlds with the “malinamnam” (savory) cuisine that we grew up with as well as the fun American fast food chains that have sprouted in the Philippines during the past decades – or what he calls the “double whammy” diet exposure.
He added, “Unfortunately, once Filipinos arrive in the US, that food immersion is magnified as sizing (or our consumption) here can be up to ten times more than back home given that the portions here are bigger and food is more affordable here, whereas McDonald’s in Manila can be expensive for the average working class so not everyone can indulge so easily.”
“The odds are against us – easy access to excessive soda, sweets, meat, etc. – which can be worse for us than our Caucasian counterparts as the combination of our unhealthy Filipino diet and the abundance of fast foods here created this newly found way of eating so detrimental to our health.”
“Although, I find that American-born Filipinos tend to live healthier lifestyles than those born in the Philippines,” Dr. Vives observes. “And it’s probably because there are more campaigns for a healthier lifestyle here than in the Philippines.”
Another factor that works against good eating habits is that Filipinos function as a unit – what one eats, everybody eats. Peer pressure can sabotage an individual’s efforts to modify his or her diet. Filipinos also tend to take offense when the food they offer is refused by another, regardless of health issues, and is seen as a motion to break away from community.
Also, we fall prey to the same westernized culture – busy schedules, lack of exercise, daily stress from a fast paced lifestyle. Not only are our eating habits affected by these, but the stress factor can actually wreak havoc on our metabolism, immune system and general physical well being.
Statistics Reveal Health Risks High for Filipinos
In his line of work, Dr. Vives handles more adults with chronic ailments that stem from unhealthy lifestyles than other factors such as genetic disposition, suggesting diet and lack of exercise play a big part in contributing to these diseases.
According to Stanford School of Medicine’s ethnogeriatrics study, the ranked leading causes of death among Filipino-American older adults 65 years and older are:
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (COPD) and Asthma
Influenza and Pneumonia
Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, and Nephrosis
Accidents (Unintentional Injuries)
Aortic aneurysm and Dissection
Hypertension and Hypertensive Renal Disease (Huo, 2009).
The study was based on a cross-sectional study of Filipino-American patients in areas with a significant Filipino-American population such as San Diego County and Daly City in California, and Houston, Texas, to name a few.
“These statistics don’t have to remain the same because there are many ways to prevent these conditions from happening. However, Filipinos tend to put diet as a low priority in their way of living,” laments Dr. Vives.
“A healthy lifestyle is an investment and may be hard to maintain. But small steps can be taken to get there.”
Acquiring Healthier Habits
Dr. Vives feels his Filipino patients, generally educated and knowledgeable of the basics of health and nutrition, can use this awareness as leverage in doing small task changes even at home or in social gatherings. Examples of small task changes include, but not limited to, cutting down soda consumption or using smaller plates to help limit food portions. Exercising as a group is another way of doing something both social and healthy. Also, preventive measures discussed with healthcare providers work better than waiting to get sick before seeing their doctors.
“Filipinos tend to self-treat, which can lead to more problems,” said Dr. Vives. “Also, I find that although Filipino patients seem to be agreeable during doctor’s appointments, there is inner resistance that can be challenging when it comes to getting patients to stick with the program suggested.”
“Filipinos are blessed with the ability to adapt to different situations and environment and we also take pride in these western influences that have become a part of our lives, but there are unhealthy ways in our adopted country that we do not have to embrace.”
Dr. Vives is striving to make his present site in Kaiser Permanente Martinez a benchmark for the prevention of cardiovascular and other related diseases through healthier lifestyles. Being a Fil-Am, he believes Filipino physicians have the best of both worlds where they should be able to outreach and help reset patients’ priorities to lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer that plague our population.
“My vision is to see Filipino-Americans move from ranking highest in statistics for diseases and mortality to a much lower percentage through lifestyle changes,” Dr. Vives concludes.
For Dr. Vives, medicine is not just about saving lives in the ER or treating medical conditions. It also means providing patients proper care and support to help them maintain or manage their health beyond their hospital or clinic visits.
Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.
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