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Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders still have no medical coverage - often going without, or winding up at a local hospital emergency room. For the past 15 years The Rhode Island Free Clinic has been the safety net for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, through a vast network of volunteer medical professionals and corporate donors.
Click here for more information about the Rhode Island Free Clinic.
I’m Jim Hummel and this month’s Rhode Island Spotlight profiles the Rhode Island Free Clinic. Since 1999 it has been a lifeline to medical care for thousands of Rhode Islanders who had no other options for coverage. This Spotlight is made possible by CVS Health, a proud partner of the clinic.
Manuel Guzman has been having persistent back pain, serious enough to keep him out of work. But with no health coverage he hasn’t been able to see a doctor and figure out what might be causing the problem.
Guzman, who is 41, recently discovered The Rhode Island Free Clinic - which last year treated 2,000 patients who had no insurance and could not afford to pay for any health care.
Troise: `` When you have nothing, you’re just out there. You don’t get care.’’
Dr. Caroline Troise has been a volunteer at the free clinic since it was founded in 1999, an effort spearheaded by former first lady Stephanie Chafee. Dr. Troise, who practices internal medicine at Anchor Medical Associates, has been the volunteer medical director here since 2001.
Hummel: ``How have things changed since you began in 2001?’’
Troise: ``Then we had very little we could offer the patients besides just a good history and physical and some basic blood testing.’’
Over the past 15 years the clinic has grown into a million-dollar-a-year operation, privately funded through donations with no taxpayer money. More importantly, it leverages an additional $5 million of in-kind donations: from doctors to hospitals to supplies and contributions from nearly four dozens corporate donors.
But this is no emergency room or urgent care center. The clinic operates like a doctor’s office, with patients scheduling regular appointments and getting care from specialists and medication as needed - but with no bill or co-pay at the end of the visit.
Ghazal: ``Today we have a psychiatrist here, we have orthopedics, we have dermatology, we have GI doctors…’’
Marie Ghazal has been the clinic’s CEO the past six years.
Ghazal: ``We raise every penny and it’s through the generosity of donors, companies, businesses.’’
Manuel Guzman, like all new patients, got a full workup on his first visit, administered by Marvin Vasquez, a medical assistant who serves as the clinic’s traffic cop and interpreter when necessary. With basic information in hand Guzman meets with a team that includes Dr. Remuel Briones, a primary care volunteer who give four hours of his time a month to the clinic. Natasha Freeman is a pre-med student at Brown who also volunteers her time as interpreter and Emmanuel Danso is one of half a dozen AmericaCorp Vista volunteers. Danso hopes to be a primary care doctor as well.
Dr. Briones will order some tests and medication - and schedule an appointment for a followup. If Guzman needs lab work, x-rays or a CAT scan he can get them at Lifespan; women can get mammograms at Women and Infants Hospital.