Linda O'Keeffe, PA-C

A Certified PA for almost 30 years, Linda O’Keeffe, PA-C, doesn’t work in your typical clinical environment. O’Keeffe is one of six healthcare providers, and the only PA, to treat inmates at the county jail. She tries to show her patients every day that their health matters — that their well-being is important.

Seeing patients in this setting is challenging. As one of O’Keeffe’s colleagues, Karen Ketner, NP, director of advanced practice, explained, “this group is often inflicted with multiple chronic health conditions, a higher prevalence of infectious diseases, a history of inadequate medical care and behavioral health issues, including substance abuse.” O’Keeffe says in her clinical setting, “I have to rely heavily on my clinical examination and observation skills,” as it is often difficult to depend on the history her patients provide.

The environment in which she examines and treats her patients varies. It ranges from a fairly open setting, where inmates are free to walk down to a waiting room, to a much more restricted setting, where they are individually escorted in handcuffs and accompanied by an officer through the entire examination.

One of O’Keeffe’s supervising physicians recognizes her ability to look past the exterior and just see the inmates as people who need help. “Although you do have to be tough in our line of work, it is a much greater skill to remain compassionate in this environment,” says Alexander Chyorny, MD, FACP, CCHP, medical director of adult custody health services. “Linda has been a role model for tireless advocacy on behalf of our patients with serious needs.”

O’Keeffe has been the principal provider working in the latent TB infection clinic at the jail. She also co-authored and was responsible for all of the clinical work in a published study evaluating a shorter course of treatment for latent TB in the inmate population. What was a 9-month treatment is “now a revolutionary 3-month treatment regimen at our jail,” says Dr. Chyorny. “She was a driving force behind this implementation.” Ketner adds that “the results of the study are likely to change the way latent TB is managed across all populations.”

In addition to her clinical work, O’Keeffe is the first PA to serve on the Interdisciplinary Practice Committee, which is responsible for credentialing all advanced practice providers within the county clinic and hospital system. O’Keeffe developed the proper documentation for PA credentialing, and according to Ketner, “Linda has become the PA content expert for the committee in regards to anything involving background, education, certification, licensing, scope of practice and oversight requirements.”

Ketner adds, “I have learned a lot from Linda about the misconceptions around the PA role in health care and concrete statutory information about PA practice. She has taught us all that PAs can work anywhere within our system whether it is a primary care or specialty clinic.”

O’Keeffe is also co-chair of the Advanced Practice Council at Santa Clara County HHS, which, adds Ketner, “provides leadership, representation, consultation and collaboration for and among our advanced practice providers as well as to make recommendations regarding the role of advanced practice providers in policy and positions.”

Linda has made a significant impact on the PA community in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the founder and program coordinator of the local professional organization called Bay Area Non-Docs (BAND), which is made up of approximately 400 PAs and NPs. For the past 24 years, this group has been gathering at monthly educational dinner meetings — a great opportunity for networking and education.

Colleagues are continuously impressed with O’Keeffe’s knowledge, skills, and unwavering dedication, especially in this setting. “Linda has been my mentor since I began working with her 13 years ago,” says Dr. Chyorny. “Linda helped me, and numerous other physicians who worked in our practice, to orient and navigate the challenging world of correctional healthcare. Her contribution to the lives of thousands of patients who otherwise would have been left without essential medications and follow-up can hardly be overestimated,” says Dr. Chyorny.