The UC Irvine Outreach Clinic, a free clinic run by UCI health sciences students, opened its doors Wednesday, March 3.
According to the National Coalition on Healthcare, nearly 46 million Americans were without health insurance in 2007, and young adults from ages 18 to 24 were the least likely to have health insurance.
These numbers are indicative of the serious lack of health care available to Americans, particularly young adults and minorities.
In response to this shortage, universities have been opening free clinics to provide aid to those who have little or no access to it. Outreach is just one of the many clinics that have been opening up at schools like UCLA and UC San Diego.
Twelve years ago, the only free clinic of Outreach’s kind was Clinica Carino, which offered services to underprivileged minorities and college students free of charge. The main drawback, however, was that it was only a referral clinic.
“We basically just screened patients for common conditions [such as diabetes, high blood pressure and depression] and tried to refer them to other clinics. We couldn’t actually do any treatment there,” said Shannon Toohey, a second-year medical student and clinic organizer.
Students became frustrated by the inability to help. In 2006, a needs assessment was conducted on the clinic, and the legalities of opening a student-run section of the Clinica Corino were worked through until doors officially opened on Nov. 1, 2008.
The clinic is located at the Hurtt Family Clinic at the Village of Hope in Tustin, CA. During the week, the site serves as a Medi-Cal and MSI Health Insurance clinic (both are health insurance agencies for lower-income citizens who provide all aspects of insured employee benefits – health care, dental, vision, disability, etc.), as well as a halfway home for the homeless who are transitioning between homelessness and finding places to live.
On Saturdays, however, students work from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. to provide services to those that do not have access to health care or do not qualify for MSI or Medi-Cal.
Some of the help offered includes health education, prescription medications through patient assistance programs, referral services and mental health assistance, a benefit recently added to the list of services the clinic offers.
“We will [also] provide continuity of care through preventive medicine, weekly non-emergency services and management of chronic illnesses,” Toohey said.
Not only do underprivileged citizens receive opportunities to get free health care, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. David Bailey stated that it also gives students a chance to work in the field.
“Students [will have] direct patient contact and learn from attending early in their medical education,” Toohey agreed. “Also, it provides exposure to a very specific patient population that is important for students to learn about. Students rarely get exposure to the types of patients we will be treating.”
Yet in these trying economic times, how is the university funding this endeavor? According to Bailey, funding is drawn from a number of sources.
“The clinic is supported by individuals [such as students, physicians, allied health personnel] volunteering their time, by some support from the school of medicine, and by donations. The Orange County Rescue Mission Village of Hope is generously allowing the clinic to function in its facility free of charge.”
The program also receives a monthly allocation from the dean’s office, claims Associate Dean of Diversity in the Medical School Alberto Manetta.
“It’s a struggle, what with the current economy,” Toohey said. “But for now, we can run on the money that the school had set aside before the budget crisis.”
Still, the volunteers remain optimistic and have their sights set on expansion and longer hours. In the coming years, members plan to open more clinics and have each site be open every day of the week.
This confident and assured outlook makes the future of UCI’s Outreach Clinic look bright.
“The clinic will just be hugely helpful,” Toohey concluded. “And that’s all there is to it.”