Bella Primary Care: Life-affirming health care returns to San Francisco

By Rosemary Alva

“There are not enough words to express the positive experience my 90-year-old mother-in-law had with Bella Primary Care and Dr. Tammy Mahaney,” raved Marina. “It’s heartening to know that Dr. Tammy demonstrated exceptional care, taking the time and effort to ensure my mother-in-law’s well-being. The personal touch, such as calling on her way home to ensure my husband picked up a walker the doctor ordered, reflects a truly compassionate approach to health care. It was the first time my mother-in-law did not want to leave the medical office nor was she rushed.” Marina and her family are patients at Bella Primary Care, Northern California’s first Catholic health care clinic since 2015. 

Located at 2000 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, Bella opened in 2022 and has since received a permanent primary care license from the California Department of Public Health, staffed several medical providers and implemented insurance coverage. Bella provides family medicine, pediatric and adolescent health, women’s health, men’s health, geriatric wellness and intravenous infusion services. When asked why she works at Bella, Dr. Mahaney said, “Bella is truly unique because the doctors and nurse practitioners care about their patients and want to bring value and listen to what your health concerns are.”

At a time when many smaller medical clinics have been acquired by larger corporate initiatives, Bella serves as a reminder of personal medical care where meeting patient quotas and short appointment times are not part of the program. “I went in for a physical and was very surprised, based on my previous experience with medical office visits,” explained Daniel, a student at UC Berkeley. “They treated me like a real person, not just a number or a profile. There was no hurry to move me in and out.” Another patient, Jen, shares a similar experience. “I have nine children and my last medical provider was part of a really large facility,” she explains. “It was always a fight for me to get life-affirming care.”

Physicians also seek out Bella’s approach to patient care. Bella’s pediatrician, Victoria Schneider, learned of the clinic and contacted it immediately. “I went into pediatrics to provide compassionate and excellent care to children,” explains Dr. Schneider. “The staff at Bella gives me the occasion to work in a clinic where I take care of patients in an environment that truly partners with parents to make sure their children can live safely and thrive. Additionally, in larger practices and in some of my past experiences, a physician can feel as if on an assembly line, seeing five or six patients an hour, all day long. There is no time to develop a relationship or go very deep in understanding their needs. At Bella, patient appointments are longer, which improves quality of care.” Tessa, mother of four young children, affirms this quality of care. “With our previous providers, there was a real lack of humanity. Everything seemed very clinical and, even with little kids, there wasn’t a warmth you would naturally have with a child or you would hope a provider would have with a child. It was just: What’s wrong, what kind of medications do you need, what vaccines do you need, we’ll get you in and out. When we came to Bella, it was a completely different experience.”

Quality of care resonates highly with patients. “Most of our new patients come by referral,” explains Bella office manager Sally Brien Holper. “People are so happy with the care they receive, they tell their family and friends. It’s very common for a new patient to come and, after a visit or two, their family members make appointments.”

What’s the secret behind this quality of care? Catholic values. Bella provides life-affirming, lifelong care for any patient, in any walk of life, whether insured, underinsured or self-pay. Thus, to serve all, the clinic model relies on the generosity of time, talent and donations (via grants and private donors) to keep the doors open, lights on and patients scheduled. With Archbishop Cordileone and career professionals on the board of directors and staff, boosted by hundreds of supporters and volunteers behind the scenes, the clinic stays on-focus and open for opportunities not only to see patients who make regular appointments, but also to collaborate with organizations such as United for Life, 40 Days for Life, Project Rachel and the Gabriel Project, to fill a much needed gap in licensed medical care for all communities. The outcome? The God-given dignity of every patient is acknowledged and affirmed, the value of life is upheld and hope is given to the young mother, the infertile couple, the elderly father and everyone in between.

With an unwavering commitment to life, Bella is a beacon of hope for many new parents. “We hear more and more that patients are pressured to not have more children,” Bella’s executive director, Dolores Meehan, explains. “They are pressured to do prenatal testing. And if there’s some abnormality from the prenatal testing, they are pressured to abort. At Bella, we don’t put that kind of pressure on patients. We encourage them to embrace life and accompany them on that journey.” This is a journey that begins in natural conception and continues to natural death. 

When patients require varied levels of care, Bella provides the foundation: primary care physicians who support patient values. “Bella is a primary care medical clinic and a place where patients can have a personal relationship with their physician,” Meehan said. “Because your primary care physician is the gatekeeper for all other medical care, it’s important to establish trust and guarantee shared values with this provider in particular. Everything in a patient’s health care comes back to the primary care physician.” When Amy, a caregiver for her disabled older brother, was concerned he was not receiving complete care in the hospital, she contacted a Bella provider for medical advocacy. “My brother was admitted to the ICU with varied complications but alert and with signs of hope. The attending physician made assumptions and comments about his quality of life, commented he will ‘never improve’ and even phoned me in the middle of the night to pressure me to sign a Do Not Resuscitate agreement. We wanted good medical care but instead these behaviors caused us to feel bullied and concerned about the quality of care. I spoke with a Bella provider who advised me by phone and helped us so much with sound medical advice. She valued his life and gave us a feeling of not being alone. We had a second wind to approach the next steps in his care. We also had a sense of peace and an advocate when we needed one. We are so grateful.” Meehan added, “Every patient that comes to us is a medical advocacy patient, because every patient coming to us is coming for life-affirming care.”

“When I found Bella, I thought: Finally! Finally, someone is here to actually ask the questions I want to be asked and to actually take care of me and my family in a way that I want as a parent,” Tessa said. “I recommend it to anyone who is dissatisfied with your current health care or seeking a more deserving medical experience and encourage you to go in and check it out.” 

Marina gratefully concludes, “We feel so fortunate to have found Bella Primary Care.”

Scan for more information about Bella Primary Care or to make a donation to provide dignified care for underfunded patients, visit

Rosemary Alva is a career professional writer. Educated at Carnegie Mellon University, her experience in high tech motivated her to later specialize in story, from life stories and memoirs to all life-engaging subjects. She writes from the San Francisco Bay area.