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changing consciousness- the free people's clinic

. . .from the people who bring you the Free People's Clinic: an article about why Free Clinics can't be the answer to the problem of providing competent, accessible, compassionate, free health care; and why "us" and "you" have to combine to form a "we" that can find ways of making and keeping our community healthy. . .

The Free People's Clinic opened in Ann Arbor over a year ago, and since that time has seen over 3,000 brothers and sisters. In delivering health care the clinic has tried to live up to its ideals which include the belief that health is a human right, not a privilege based on income or anything else; that health care means caring about people, not just treating their diseases; that an emphasis on health education, preventative medicine, demystification and de-proffessionalization of medicine must underlie all interactions between staff and patients; and that no hierarchial structures can exist among clinic staff and between staff and patients.

Presently the clinic functions as an out-patient service and can diagnose and treat many Illnesses as well as educate people on what they can do to stay healthy. The lab can do blood and urine tests for such things as mono, hepatitis, pregnancy, V.D., and other conditions and infections; the pharmacy carries antibiotics and other medicines to help make sick bodies well; there is information and counseling for V.D. problems, sex education, abortion referral, and nutrition. Soon there will be a free dental clinic. A free psychological counseling program is still in preliminary planning stages.

The Free Clinic is also planning on expanding to other services, both within the clinic facility and by doing outreach work in the community. There are hopes that the clinic can house health education classes during the day including prenatal, La Maze, and nutrition classes; and classes discussing health, health care, and changing the health care delivery system. The clinic is looking into the possibility of doing or assisting with certain kinds of medical screening programs in the community, offering a vaccination program, and other activities that are not based in the physical structure of the clinic itself.

But, people are becoming increasingly aware that the free clinic is severely limited in the number of people it can possibly serve. The maximum number of brothers and sisters the clinic can see per week is about 200. But the need for good, free health services extends far beyond 200 people per week. The Free Clinic is getting into more and more of a brie! concerning how many patients t can I seen without compromising each patient's right to spend as much time getting treated and getting educated as she he feels is necessary. The solutions to this problem are not at all simple. We can open up more free clinics; we can try to start a "free hospital," and/or we can start putting pressure on the existing medical facilities in this town to start concerning themselves with meeting the needs of the people.

There is, of course, a very fundamental question involving whether health care will ever be able to meet people's needs under the present governmental system.

As long as doctors and other medical professionals continue making profits from treating diseases, there will continue to be a very definite lack of emphasis on preventative medicine and health education. If people kept healthy and knew about their bodies and how to keep and make them well, the medical professionals would obviously not make as much money as they would if people continued to be mystified by medicine, their bodies, and health care. This may not be a conscious thing on the part of some medical professionals, but their entire conditioning (medical school, etc.) has been geared toward disease and the treating of disease rather than preventative health care. Until some of these basic contradictions are dealt with, good health care will be as hard to come by in this town as it is in the rest of the country.

The same kind of bind exists in dealing with "drug problems" as in dealing with health problems. Traditionally the governing bodies in the country have chosen to deal with an enormous number of problems by taking a "band-aid" approach. For example, with the problem of increased heroin addiction, many rehabilitation facilities - methadone maintenance, methadone withdrawal programs, psychological group therapy, Synanon, Day-Top, Octagon House, etc. etc.- have been established and funded on the federal, state, and local levels. These programs deal basically with the individual problems of the junkie: the problems the junkie has in dealing with society, dealing with his/herself, dealing with life; and the goal of the rehabilitation facility is usually to get the sisters and brothers off dope and see that they are able to face life, get a job, or whatever. And in the meantime, the ghettos- the poverty and racism, slums and disease, sexism and exploitation, unemployment and alienation- those conditions that encourage addiction in the first place- go on. The heroin won't disappear from this society until these conditions are dealt with. Until that time the ghettos and alienation felt by people in this society will continue to turn out more addicts than any number of "rehabilitation facilities" are ever going to be able to take care of. As the system exists now, all the existing drug programs, commissions, and experts live off of drug addiction; and rather than altering those social and economic arrangements that make people turn to drug use, the system only administers programs that in a sense assure the survival of the problem. To do other wise would be to change the system itself.

The Free People's Clinic does not want to fall into the trap of just being a band-aid to a very wounded system.

Many changes are needed before people will be able to live in a society where they will have self-determination of all things that affect their lives, and hopefully the clinic will be able to facilitate some of these changes. A supplement so the "University Record"- a bulletin published by the University of Michigan, states, "The finest health care resources in the world are here" (November 8, 1971) ... The article goes on to say how many diseases (or "cases") were treated, and ends with, "Though none of us looks forward to being Hl, we can be confident that the resources to make us well are only minutes away." I think Dylan might say, "Is this some kind of joke?". How many of us have been hassled by these "greatest resources in the world" for out values, our looks, our race, our sex, and our financial status? How many of us have been denied treatment or discouraged from using these "Greatest resources" for lack of money or other things?

I hope everyone can see that the Free People's Clinic can no longer go merrily on its way thinking its doing such a fine job of providing health care, without dealing with the myriad of contradictions presented by the existing health care facilities in this town.

At the present time, the Free Clinic is going through many changes trying to establish a good balance between offering service and forcing existing medical facilities to become responsive to the needs of the people. As we get more and more into confronting the established system, we also want to make sure we continue to provide health care in a democratic, anti-racist, anti-sexist work and service environment. But we need help! "We" is "you" and "us" and everyone! A second annual meeting of the Free People's Clinic staff, patients, and community is scheduled for 7:30 pm March 19th (Sunday) in the auditorium of the old School of Public Health, located on Observatory (by University Hospital). The Free Clinic (that means you if you've been a patient at the clinic!) will elect a board of directors that will reflect our ideal of community-worker control of all institutions. We hope to have half of the people sitting on the board of directors, patients who have used or are potential users of the Free Clinic. This board will be charged with the responsibility of keeping the clinic responsive to human needs both on an individual level and be helping create systems whereby the needs of every person can be met. Many questions have been raised as to how to go about doing this, and as a good friend once said, ". . . your life may depend on the answers!"

"..... I stand alone

both my feet are planted firmly on the ground

to my left

and to my right

are my sisters and brothers

we join hands-

for the storm is already upon us

and we march toward "


-- Nancy Lessin