ROCHESTER — Medical students at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry began running a free, after-hours clinic for area residents several years ago and recently expanded their outreach to the Latino community.
The students treat undersinsured or uninsured patients with acute conditions as well as help others manage their chronic conditions during weekly clinics held at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center and Asbury Methodist Church, explained Ted Ryser, one of the clinic’s cofounders.
Earlier this summer, members of the Latino Students Medical Association (LMSA) decided to reach out to Spanish speakers in the community through a "Noche de Español" once a month at the Asbury location, said Eric Nielsen, a second-year student from Durham, Conn.
The initiative also ties in with the Latino Health Pathway that is taught at the medical school, Nielsen said. The program enrolls medical students interested in developing their written and spoken skills in medical Spanish and boosts their knowledge of the Latino culture and the specific health-care needs of the diverse population locally, according to www.urmc.rochester.edu/education/md/prospective-students/elective-pathways/latino-health-pathway.cfm.
"It’s important for us as well to get exposure" to Latino patients in Rochester as part of the program, said Ryser, a third-year student from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The "Noche de Español" offers that kind of practical experience at the Asbury clinic held in the church’s basement offices, which are turned into examination rooms for the students’ use, said Ryser. That clinic has served about 2,000 people since opening five years ago, according to directors Rebecca Levinn and Jenny Horowitz, and has helped meet the needs of patients who might otherwise go to the emergency room or receive no care at all.
But few Latino patients have been treated at Asbury, Nielsen and Ryser said. In fact, during the three summer clinics offered there in Spanish, there were more volunteers than patients, Ryser noted.
"Transportation is a challenge," he said. "And it’s been hard to get the word out to people who need help."
Nielsen said that he has tried to address those barriers by providing the directors of St. Michael’s and Los Flamboyanes apartments with bus passes for residents, noting that the directors also have been letting residents know about the clinic. But, Nielsen said, the target group that would benefit most from the clinic’s Spanish-language services — elderly Latinos — do not seem to be comfortable using public transportation.
"We haven’t seen patients from those locations," he said.
The students have tried making transportation arrangements with the university as well as churches and other community organizations, but the biggest obstacle has become liability, they said.
Albert Algarin, who runs the Hispanic Community Center at Los Flamboyanes to serve Latino seniors there, said that he will continue to work with the students to find a way to connect them with the residents. The health care they are providing is a great resource for the residents, he added.
"I told them (the students) that the problem you’re going to face is them coming to you," Algarin said. "But somehow, we must find a bridge where we can gap that (obstacle) so the service can continue."
The students said that they remain undaunted in their quest to help address the health-care needs of the Latino community, which also is part of the mission statement of LMSA, Nielsen said. The association also was part of a health fair at Los Flamboyanes and had a booth at the Puerto Rican Festival, Nielsen said. In addition to informing people about the clinic, the students also want to encourage Latinos to consider health careers, he added.
For Andrés Sánchez, a second-year student and Colombia native, the mission to help Latinos is personal. When his family lived in Miami, his mother received care from a similar type of clinic that was operated by students at the University of Miami, he said.
"As an immigrant, we went through some pretty hard times," Sánchez said. "And my mother, she used a service like this … so I know the value of it."
EDITOR’S NOTE: The "Noche de Español" free medical clinic is available from 6 to 8 p.m. every third Thursday at Asbury First United Methodist Church, 1050 East Ave., Rochester. For more information about the free clinics held at Asbury and St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, e-mail Urwell_clinicdirectors@urmc.rochester.edu or call 585-271-1050, ext. 126.