The MMS Committee on Senior Volunteer Physicians convened its 13th Annual Fall Forum for Free Health Care Programs on October 26, with nearly 100 attendees discussing their experiences in helping burgeoning populations that visit free clinics throughout the Bay State.
In her welcoming remarks, Committee Chair Helen Cajigas, M.D. urged attendees to assist the committee with ongoing administrative needs to foster better communication between the free clinics.
Delivering the keynote address was Massachusetts Department of Health Commissioner (DPH) Monica Bharel, M.D., who spoke about “The Intersection Between Massachusetts Free Health Care Programs and the DPH.” Her remarks were followed by a question and answer session with Kevin Cranston, assistant commissioner at DPH. Cranston, who also serves as director of the Bureau of Infection Disease and Laboratory Sciences, provided information and answered questions about the growing threat of Zika.
Dr. Bharel, in acknowledging that the ages of the forum’s attendees ran the gamut from retired physicians to medical students and residents, said she was heartened that everyone seemed eager to learn from one another.
“My father is a doctor in New York,” she said, “and I learned about medicine by helping him in his practice when I was a young girl. He inspired me and my two siblings, and all three of us today are pursuing careers in medicine. It’s good for medical students to get started early and to work together with mentors to give back to the community.”
Dr. Bharel noted that while Massachusetts citizens are among the healthiest in the nation, there is an ongoing need to examine data compiled by clinics, hospitals, and other state agencies to “target services to better impact outcomes, eradicate inequities, and to identify what the social determinants are that prevent those who need health care services from obtaining them.”
Interviews with many of the attendees identified various areas of concern with regard to delivering health care to unserved and underserved populations.
Several attendees identified homelessness as an issue of growing concern. Jessica Peters, M.D., a volunteer physician with Health Care Without Walls, said the program, founded in 1999 by Roseanna H. Means, M.D., increasingly is in need of volunteer nurses and physicians to treat the growing population of women and their children, many of whom are also struggling with issues of domestic violence.
Another group identified in need of health care is undocumented immigrants, who also face language barriers. Patients visiting the statewide clinics come to Massachusetts from such far flung locales as Brazil, Ghana, the Philippines, Uganda, India, Bangladesh, and Puerto Rico.
Gracia Perez-Lirio, M.D., who hails from the Philippines, said she and her colleagues are reviving the Philippine Medical Association’s free clinic, which had been dormant in recent years due to the influx of Filipino immigrants.
Other attendees who serve as language interpreters at walk-in clinics said they are aware that patients often commute from great distances within Massachusetts and adjacent New England states in their quests to obtain free medical help.
Cynthia Akagbosu, a fourth year medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine, said she helps patients by volunteering with the Sharewood Project in Malden by providing interpretive services. Born in Nigeria, schooled in England and Florida, Ms. Akagbosu is fluent in Spanish.
The MMS Committee on Senior Volunteer Physicians uses the experience and skills of retired physicians to address common interests and community needs on a voluntary, part-time basis. Anyone interested in participating in the committee’s work or volunteering at a free health clinic should contact Chew-Hoong Koh at email@example.com or 781-434-7312.