By Gregg Harrington
Point Park News Service
A granite sign on the Braddock Municipal Building lawn at 415 Sixth Street states “Lest We Forget” in memory of all United States veterans; a slogan that indirectly recounts the days where UPMC’s Braddock hospital stood tall on the main street through town. Since its closure in January 2010, the residents of Braddock have struggled to receive medical assistance in the form of any establishment in the once-flourishing steel town.
Despite the odds, the Braddock Free Clinic’s opening in August of 2011 has offered residents an alternative to the vacant hospital they were so familiar with.
“It was great,” reminisces 30-year-old Braddock resident Dave Rosenstraus, who was a patient at the clinic when it first opened this past August due to back problems. Rosenstraus waxed nostalgic about his trip, remarking that it closely resembled a standard hospital waiting room visit. What made the Free Clinic different was its first question posed: “Do you have health insurance?”
The Clinic does not offer services of any kind to those with any form of health insurance, reserving the resources they have for the uninsured. Crudely taped to the front door of the Municipal Building is an 8.5×11” flyer that reads, “It is our pleasure to serve you by providing basic healthcare to those who need it but cannot afford it.” As it goes on, it explains that in order to even be seen by one of the volunteering doctors on site, a patient’s household income must be at or below 350% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. This means that a one-person household must make lower than $37,905 per year to be waited on (two-person: $50,995; three-person: 64,085).
Rosenstraus says he had a positive experience at the Braddock Clinic, citing a short wait time and good advice given to him by the doctor on call that August day. Despite the overall good visit, the Clinic has its quirks.
“The ‘doctor’s office’ was actually in the Code Enforcement office,” says Rosenstraus of the makeshift patient area. He further tells the story of being asked a few simple questions by the doctor who then a drawer on wheels carrying medical supplies, used as a provisional medical cart.
“The Clinic is beneficial to our area because there are a lot of elderly people in Braddock, along with poorer populations who don’t have access to good food and healthcare,” he says, “which usually leads to having more ailments.”
Rosenstraus’ housemate Alex Sanchez describes a similar experience at the Free Clinic this past January. He was concerned about knee problems he was having, and was promptly recommended by the doctor on call to have x-rays done at UPMC’s McKeesport facility, an admittedly ironic twist on the Braddock healthcare saga. Sanchez notes that of his $500 bill that amassed from all of the services he received at the Free Clinic and at UPMC McKeesport, he paid a staggering $80 for the care. And according to the queue he witnessed leaving the Clinic, the services seem to have caught on.
“When I got there around 11 A.M.,” says Sanchez, “it was just me and one other person. By the time I left after noon, there were about 15 people in the waiting room.”
Rosenstraus and Sanchez are just two of the many Braddock residents to have used the services of the Braddock Free Clinic since its inception in August. But with its limited time available to residents (the Clinic’s only hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.) as well as its limited resources, it fills a section of the void left by UPMC Braddock. While the ensuing battle that happened between residents and UPMC officials during the closing of the hospital was anything but pleasant, receptionist Brenda Haines of Elizabeth says that the people of Braddock don’t say too much about the loss of the town’s hospital over two years ago.
“They’re just looking for services,” Haines explains, knowing all too well the behaviors of the patients. She has worked at the Free Clinic since its opening and has seen the program grow to include many different aspects. Haines listed around 15 specialists that volunteer their services to the people of Braddock, including cardiologists, practitioners of internal medicine, and many more. The two explicitly left out by Haines that the Clinic does not have are dentistry and gynecology, but she states that they are currently on the search for those that will offer these services.
“It doesn’t take the place of UPMC,” Rosenstraus says, “but it’s a good way for people to get themselves checked out.”