Free Medical Care Available Weekly
All New Yorkers face a variety of health hazards – but for those without health insurance, a job, a home, or any advocates to speak up for them, New York City can be a difficult place to get proper medical care.
New York’s homeless men and women are exposed to the elements year-round, putting them at risk of frostbitten feet in the winter and sunstroke in the summer. Without access to primary care doctors, the homeless use the city’s emergency rooms. Hospitalized three times as often as the average person, homeless men and women stay in the hospital longer to deal with a more complex – and expensive – range of issues. Among adults in the city’s shelter system, documented cases of tuberculosis are 11 times higher, instances of HIV infection are 16 times more common, and death rates are twice as high as the general population.
In September 2002, Dr. Brian Sumner and Jane Shin, a fourth-year medical student, responded to this need by founding The Bowery Mission Medical Clinic. Dr. Sumner’s wife, Leslee, joined the clinic in 2003 as the Health Care Advocate. Over the past eight years, the clinic has served more than 3,000 patients. The goal is to provide the highest quality medical care in a barrier-free setting for those who often have no other way to access medical care. Every Wednesday night, the doctors and other volunteers assist patients with a variety of needs, from diabetes and hypertension to dermatological conditions and asthma. In recent years, an optometry clinic has been added once a month.
The Bowery Mission Medical Clinic is funded by a monthly grant from Hope For New York, which also provides the majority of professional volunteers – doctors, nurses, and social workers – who staff the clinic.
One patient has been a “regular” at The Bowery Mission clinic since 2003. Having already experienced colon cancer and diabetes (both diagnosed at the clinic), the man arrived at The Bowery Mission one winter day in the midst of a cardiac event. Dr. Sumner sent him to the hospital, but when he and Leslee went to visit several days later, they learned that the hospital was planning to discharge the man onto the streets during one of the coldest weeks of the year. Thankfully, Dr. Sumner was able to advocate that the man be assigned to a case worker instead, and the man is now living in an assisted living facility in Queens, rather than on the streets of New York.
Sometimes, it is this kind of advocacy – even more than the direct medical care – that matters the most. “To the people in the hospital, he was a stranger unable to pay,” Leslee Sumner explains. “But to us, he is someone we know and care for deeply.”
It is through The Bowery Mission’s meal programs and outreach programs that we are able to meet the poor and homeless men and women, and invite them to use the medical clinic services. For those who are struggling with substance abuse or addictions, we are able to offer them opportunities in our residential recovery programs for men and for women.