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Free Health Clinics Fill The Gap For Uninsured

Massachusetts tops the nation when it comes to residents with health insurance. Still about 277,000 men women and children in the state remain uninsured. How do they get medical care?

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports that “a loose-knit network of free clinics in churches, synagogues and vacant offices around the state — often run by retired doctors and nurses — is quietly caring for many of these patients.”

Here’s a bit of her story this morning:

“The flu season this year is really bad, and there are flu shots available. Who’s interested?” asks Julia Koehler, in Portuguese and English, as she glances from one weary or pale face to another. Twenty-one men, women and children sink into folding chairs in a hallway at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury. On this night, the hallway lined with folding chairs has become a makeshift waiting room.

Free flu shots are a bonus on this night for patients who’ve come in with a sprained back, dizziness or a feeling that their diabetes is getting worse.

“Now, have you lost any weight?” Dr. Dick Wolk asks as he waits for an interpreter to translate his question into Portuguese.

“No,” his patient says sheepishly.

Wolk wags a long finger at the admittedly overweight woman he’s brought to his “office” — a card table behind a striped cloth folding screen. Wolk’s patient wants to know if she’s taking the right pills to control her diabetes.

“We can give you all the pills in the world, but only you can lose weight. It’s up to you,” he says. “There is only so much medicine can do.” The patient promises Wolk she’ll pay more attention to calories and get more exercise.

Wolk is one of seven to nine physicians (most are retired) who spend their Tuesday evenings treating patients at what’s become known as the MetroWest Free Medical Program, in the temple sanctuary. Continue reading