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Thursday, January 26

The Free Clinics

           If you look at the Detroit Metro area you will find a plethora of free health clinics. At first glance this seems incredible. In a place where the residents have lost so much, and lived in poverty for so long, it is inspiring to see so many clinics set up to provide at least basic healthcare for the residents of metro Detroit. However, the closer I looked the more I began to understand that an overabundance of free clinics might illustrate larger issues.
Firstly, if there are a large number of free clinics that means that we aren’t providing, or able to provide adequate healthcare (in the current system) to a large number of people that need it. There are a significant amount of social justice issues that explain this prevailing problem, which I will not delve into in this particular space. Secondly, I found another quite significant issue.  While it is beneficial if you have strategically placed free clinics to serve a population and thus eliminate the problem of a lack of transportation limiting access to healthcare, it can be counterproductive to have a random distribution of free clinics. I don’t doubt that the people who build free clinics do so with the best intentions, but I think that sometimes there is a lack of collaboration with already existing clinics. Those who start new clinics often do so, because of a perceived need that they hope to uniquely address. I argue that rather than continuously starting anew, we should invest in the already existing infrastructure. We should pool our resources and create phenomenal care in strategically placed locations.
The Gary Burnstein Clinic in Pontiac, MI exemplifies this idea. I was working there last week. It was 6 pm and we were beginning to see patients for the night. There was an excited buzz around the clinic that evening, because for the first time in a long time we were going to have a cardiologist seeing patients in the clinic. Not only that, but we also had a pulmonologist there, and we were beginning to do sleep studies on patients. It was especially thrilling because Gary Burnstein who started the clinic, in what was basically a closet, was a cardiologist himself. It is part of what led to this particular cardiologist to seek out the clinic and donate his time and expertise to care for those who needed it, but had no means to pay for it. This clinic is an example of how we should be using our resources. If we can create very strategically placed clinics where patients have access to every specialty then I believe we can improve patient care.
The clinic is an inspiring place, filled with altruistic volunteers that are trying to do a little extra good in this world. Yet, it must run to the best of its ability. This particular clinic fires on all cylinders in large part thanks to the executive director and his dedicated staff. They are constantly trying to pool resources so that people have the opportunity to come to the clinic for all of their healthcare needs. As the resources expand at Gary Burnstein I feel that the care the patients receive will continue to improve and hopefully their health will do so as well.

In closing, I think that the people who need care would better be served if free clinics spoke and collaborated a little bit more. It is similar to the problem that exists with electronic medical records in this country, where we as healthcare consumers would be better served if EMRs communicated with one another. We know the value of communication, but sometimes we falter, whether it is because we physically don’t have the means, we can’t find the time, or we are simply don’t know how to do it effectively.

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