The City of Buffalo has faced its own plight, not just with AIDS or drugs, but with the simple suburban migration of doctors. Facilities and specialists can come few and far between on the east and west sides of Buffalo. Many low-income families and residents do not even own transportation worthy of hiking them out to the burbs for proper medical care.
Several local minds have created something of an answer to these problems. Two and possibly more of the area's local free or reduced-cost clinics in the area bring their patients quality care. The Community Health Center of Buffalo in the shadow of ECMC and Lighthouse free Medical Center at Genesee and Doat provide caring environments for city residents.
The CHCB began with an application to the federal government to start a federally qualified community health center as collaboration with the State University of New York at Buffalos Department of Family medicine, said Sandra DiPasquale, chief executive officer. It opened in June 1999, primarily providing preventive medical and dental care to the under-insured and uninsured of the east side, DiPasquale said. The relatively ,new facility covers 20,000 square feet and features 21 exam rooms, three procedure rooms, two nurse stations and an administrative suite. Services include internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, psychosocial services, laboratory services, HIV testing, and referrals for specialty care. The facility also hosts a pharmacy, providing patients with prescriptions at greatly reduced prices, DiPasquale said.
SUNYAB still exists as the CHCBs partner, employing some of its physicians, hosting 15 residents and sharing the responsibility of funding through a grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, DiPasquale said.
Most workers at CHCB receive pay. Currently 55 employees, mostly community residents, work at the center. The CHCB also has a board of directors, composed of nine members, the majority being CHCB patients, DiPasquale said.
The facility operates at a bustling pace, seeing an average of 9,000 patients. It has 28,000 encounters, and it continues to grow.
Since its inception, the center has consistently increased the number of patients served, DiPasquale said. Currently, visits are up 14 percent from this time last year.
DiPasquale said that the CHCB continues to develop and currently is working to evaluate expansion strategies to enhance the provision of primary care services in the community.
So what exactly do patients think of the CHCB? It sounds as they have all ground covered and DiPasquale promises, state of the art primary care for all ages provided by a culturally sensitive workforce.
Most are pleased with the available services.
Aaron Davis III, an older man and East Side resident, was introduced to the facility from his primary care physician when the Geneva B. Scruggs center closed. He comes here mostly for dental visits and does have insurance.
Its easy to get here and there are good people working here, he said. A lot of people I know come here too.
Markita Malone, 29, and an east side resident, mother of two, and Medicare recipient, has come to CHCB since it opened. She finds the location very convenient and said that she can get appointments quickly.
Its very nice, she said. I have no problem with them. They are very professional, and weve been very pleased.
Most patients are insured or on Medicaid, with a majority of city residents, although patients lacking insurance are welcome also.
The Lighthouse Free Medical Center came out of ideas of a faith-based initiative to help the community and some good old serendipity. The Resurrection Lutheran Church saw a need to bring some medical services to the community and students of Dr. Chester Fox, associate professor at the University at Buffalo and supervisor of the clinic, desired a way to help others in their training. About five years ago, there was no medical care anymore in the neighborhood, said Charles G. Biegner, Jr., pastor emeritus of the church. Doctors had died, retired or moved away. We looked around and said (we need somewhere to go). The government called a medically underserved area where you can drive 1.2 miles in any direction before hitting any clinic.
At first, Biegner got in touch with a Lutheran pastor, who had gone back to medical school He put him in touch with Fox and Dr. Myron Glick of the Jericho Road Family Practice. The church bought the old Crucial Building owned by the city in September 2001, Biegner said. It was a difficult job working with the city to get the building because they had put in a quarter of a million in improvements into it, Biegner said. So we had it appraised and, because of the neighborhood, it was only worth $35,000.
Biegner persuaded the city to sell the building for $25,000, saying that every dollar that he could save on the building could be put into other housing projects. The congregation helped raise the money and the national church body provided $10,000, Biegner said.
The clinic opened in October of 2001 with several students volunteering one evening a week to give physicals, self-limited medical care, blood pressure, and diabetes screenings. The clinic served walk-in under-insured or uninsured patients and did not have syringes, a phone, or cash on site. By February 2002, the building started shaping up. Collins Correctional Facility prisoners did labor to fix the building up, and the church paid for renovations, Biegner said. Today, the clinic averages between 12 and 15 patients a week, although seasonal differences bring fluctuations. During the summer, we do many sports physicals, such as for the Lombardi Football League, said Fox. Last January was our highest patient day with 73.
The clinic has moved faster than Biegner had ever expected and funding, although there is never enough, has started coming in. The facility received a $25,000 grant from another Lutheran church, the Missouri Synod, which will be used to get prescriptions for patients in cooperation with a Bailey pharmacy, Fox said. Presently, the clinic works with drug company samples. Because of the money, the clinic is also able to hold a free flu and pneumonia shot day on Nov. 15.
Biegner said that he enjoys the success that the clinic has had but that he looks to expand and continue raising funds for the facility.
We are only part way there, he said. We are trying to raise $20,000 to $25,000 more to put up walls for one big room and split it into smaller rooms. We also want to install air conditioning and heating by the end of the year. Biegner, Fox, and the students also want to expand the hours and treatment at the Lighthouse.
We are ready to move from one night a week, Biegner said. The church and clinic will work in collaboration with Glick and the Jericho Road center. They hope to eventually create a full-time medical center.
Its part of a larger dream with other churches in other parts of the city, Biegner said. The faith based initiative will bring together Christians of different backgrounds. In the meantime, all sorts of students from various backgrounds are learning how to contribute to society and enjoy it.
We find a whole group of students being sensitized to the needs of poor. How do you measure the importance of something like that? Biegner said. This is not just a Lutheran project, but something with people from all backgrounds helping us. A student came to me and said Im Moslem and hope you dont mind me helping on this, but its all Gods work. - 4p> CHCB hours: Monday, Wedgesday, and Friday, F, 8800 a.m. po 5*00 p.m., Ttesday and Thõrsday, 8:00 a.m. to 88 0 p.m. Lighthouse Clinic hours: as of noW, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. By Nicole Schuman
Not al, do#tors are in it for the money.
*Battles between proper medical care and costs, well-being of pa|ients and government )nîuendor haöe existed for about as ìong as the profession itself. ts no surprise that medical care ir cos|ly and not ahwayw cvaalable to everyone, even though North America boasts oîe of the mgst fiscally sound natiofs on Earth.