AmeriCares executives said its mobile clinic will deliver more than just health care to uninsured Darien and Stamford residents. It will also deliver a small dose of dignity.
"It keeps people well. It keeps people out of the hospital. It keeps them taking care of their families," said AmeriCares Free Clinics Executive Director Karen Gottlieb, in describing what the clinic does for people who haven't had access to quality services.
On Jan. 9, Gottlieb joined AmeriCares outgoing CEO Curt Welling, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Mayor David Martin and executives of Stamford Hospital and Quest Diagnostics in a celebration of the new service. They talked about the need for it and how this affects families and the community.
The clinic was started to fill a void in Stamford and Darien, which will also be served. According to AmeriCares, almost 20 percent of Stamford's population don't have health insurance, and Stamford Hospital has one of the highest rates of uncompensated care in the state. Even with the advent of the Affordable Health Care Act, many undocumented workers living in Stamford are expected to be left without insurance in coming years.
Gottlieb said about 20 patients have already been seen in the first week. Clinic staff treated people for problems such as soreness related to shoveling out of the last snowstorm to chronic pain related to other illnesses.
The program is expected to provide 1,200 patient visits and about $900,000 in free health-care services in its first year.
Welling, who is stepping down after leading the organization for 11 years, said giving people quality care is as much about providing people with a sense of dignity as it is health care. He said you can see it when the people walk into a clinic and get quality service.
The clinic expects to provide service to undocumented workers and the poor. Welling said that poverty should never be a bar to accessing quality health care, and the poor should not be punished for their financial condition.
"Poverty is a circumstance," he said. "It is not a personal characteristic."
Malloy said health care should be viewed as a human right. Martin echoed the governor's position, adding his thanks to AmeriCares for bringing the service to the city.
More than $2 million in funding raised over the past two years will be used to support the service during the next two years, Welling said. AmeriCares also has free clinics in Bridgeport, Danbury and Norwalk. Three-quarters of the funding comes from five major donors: OdysseyRe Foundation, Building and Land Technology, Purdue Pharma and two private individuals. With continued financial support, AmeriCares plans to open a permanent clinic in 2015.
Stamford Hospital provides free diagnostic services, including X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, to the clinic, while Quest Diagnostics provides free laboratory testing for patients. Private funding from individuals, corporations and foundations is expected to cover 100 percent of the operating expenses.
The bus that carries the clinic is not new. AmeriCares has had it on the road since 1999. Besides roving the streets of Bridgeport and Norwalk, the bus has been all over the country, including hurricane-ravaged cities and towns decimated by tornadoes.
Welling said the bus would not be here if not for Joan and Fred Weisman, who donated it all those years ago. And a plaque has been placed inside it dedicated to them.
The pair attended last week's event.
Joan Weisman said she and her husband put their hearts into the bus when AmeriCares first discussed the idea. They looked at a lot of different vehicles and Fred Weisman spent a lot of time working with the company to outfit it properly.
"It's been a thrill," she said, of helping people get healthy.