By Meng Wu, MS2, 2015-2016 Community Outreach Chair
This past fall, Bridgeport Free Clinic (BFC), Pritzker’s fifth and newest free clinic, celebrated its first year of clinic operations. Staffed by Pritzker medical students and University of Chicago physicians, BFC provides medical care to uninsured and underinsured residents of the Bridgeport neighborhood and serves a predominantly Cantonese-speaking, immigrant population. Located at 3001 S Lowe Ave, BFC first opened its doors in September 2015. It was established after a needs assessment conducted by founding board members from the class of 2018 identified significant health disparities in the region, particularly among residents of Asian descent who comprise the largest proportion of the neighborhood’s uninsured.
The 2015-16 Bridgeport Free Clinic board
Since opening, the clinic has focused on setting up services that fulfill the specific needs of BFC’s patient population. An initial challenge was assembling a pool of Cantonese and Mandarin interpreters to ensure that patients could communicate in their preferred language. To accomplish this, Tae Yeon Kim, MS2, and I reached out to undergraduate and graduate students from the wider UChicago community who were fluent in Chinese and organized training sessions for potential interpreters. The success of the recruitment process has allowed for two to three interpreters to be available at each biweekly clinic session.
It was also necessary to address the large proportion of patients who lacked health insurance. Cindy Zhang, MS2, worked to create a referrals system that directed patients to Access, a federally-qualified health center (FQHC) that charges patients on a reduced-fee, sliding-scale basis. Uninsured patients are identified while they are seen at BFC, and interpreters assist them in filling out Access’s intake forms during BFC’s checkout process. Before leaving, patients are given language-appropriate forms with directions for making appointments at and traveling to Access. To ensure that patients are seen at Access, interpreters make up to three follow-up calls, which also help to identify barriers that prevent patients from connecting with care. Cindy states, “It was important to us that we provided a long term solution for our patients’ health needs, so… Bridgeport sought from the beginning to be a referral center between our patients and established medical providers in the area that have the capacity to work with uninsured, non-English speaking patients.”
Outside of clinic operations, BFC’s community partnerships have played an instrumental role in furthering BFC’s commitment to improving healthcare in and beyond the Bridgeport area. The clinic itself is run out of a property adjacent to and owned by Chinese Christian Union Church South (CCUC-S), which serves over 200 community members within the Bridgeport neighborhood. Working closely with CCUC-S, BFC members have volunteered at multiple wellness fairs and diabetes screenings organized in both Bridgeport and Chinatown. This past spring, BFC also coordinated with the Asian Health Coalition, APAMSA, and UIC Medical School students to screen community members for hepatitis B at a health fair hosted by the Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) in Argyle. Diabetes and hepatitis B are diseases that disproportionately affect Asian-Americans, and BFC’s involvement in raising awareness about them is part of the clinic’s broader initiative to shine a brighter light on Asian-American health.
With leadership transitions underway, BFC’s newest board members hope to deepen ties with the surrounding community and gain a more granular understanding of residents’ needs. As part of the leadership board of the past year, our experiences have demonstrated the importance of creating lasting partnerships with community-based organizations and utilizing their grassroots expertise to best direct the medical knowledge, time, and resources that we have to offer.