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"new" Free Clinic--more Than Just A Service

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"NEW" FREE CLINIC--More Than Just a Service

The Ann Arbor Free Clinic recently closed down for two weeks. The reason behind the closing was a lot of changes happening at the clinic.

Earlier this year a SUN article heralded the "new philosophy" of the clinic. It was a lovely philosophy, explaining the need for changes in the whole health care system and how the clinic was going to take an active role in that change.

Well, we had a lovely theory, but no practice. And as Fred Hampton said, "That ain't shit."

We had 42 doctors working at the clinic once a month and we had different counselors for any part of the body that was sick. But we were doing nothing to stop the local hospitals, St. Joseph Mercy and University. from fucking over the vast majority of local citizens. In other words, the Free Clinic was only serving as a "band-aid" for a very sick health care system.

The prescription? A two-week moratorium to regroup, rethink and then act.

First, we agreed that all people staffing the clinic must work at least once every other week, and preferably once a week, thus reducing the number of doctors from 42 to eight. We also formed "collectives," teams of people to staff the clinic on alternate nights so individuals in one collective can get to know each other better.

And we added a "post meeting" after the clinic closes each night for the staff (and the patients, if they want) to do a criticism-self criticism trip.

Secondly, we are starting massive training programs. Instead of specialized counseling for VD, sex-ed, pelvic exams, etc., which tended to treat people as diseases rather than as people, we are working to train brothers and sisters in "patient advocacy."

A patient coming into the clinic now has an "advocate" who can be related to and who can give counseling for whatever the patient needs. It will be several months, however, before this new merging of roles is completed in every phase.

Eventually we intend for the "advocates' to accompany patients to hospitals to fight for their rights.

The clinic also will start holding weekly political education classes since we now see that this knowledge is essential in the struggle to make health care institutions less oppressive and more responsive to people's needs. And we hope to hold education programs for patients on topics ranging from VD and nutrition Information to health care in China.

Finally, the clinic is going to set up a "Barefoot Doctor" program (alias paramedic training program) so people can start learning for themselves medical services that do not necessarily have to be delivered by professional doctors. We plan to model our program after one set up at the Berkeley Community Health Clinic, where the Women's Health Collective, for example, was thoroughly trained by local doctors to perform all pelvic exams at the clinic.

In addition to specific structural and personnel changes we decided that it was time for the Free Clinic to "come out of the closet" and join other community groups in actively fighting the gross inadequacies of our local hospitals.

So at several recent public hearings on public health care, representatives from the clinic have spoken out against St. Joe's proposed move out of the community to Superior Twp. They also pointed out that many poor people don't care whether St. Joe moves because its current level of service is already so inadequate (see St. Joe story).

The clinic is now advocating community control of all hospitals and urging that neighborhood health clinics be set up and controlled at a grassroots level.

So - here we are - the "new" Free Clinic.

Stop by the clinic at 502 E. Washington St. or call 761-8952. We still have the same hours, 7:30 p.m. until closing, Monday through Thursday.

Although we are still forced to turn away many patients we are actively trying to provide health care for more and more people - somehow, somewhere.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

-Nancy Lessin from the Free Clinic