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The Brooklyn Free Clinic: Increasing Interest and Need


James Wong (center) and fellow SUNY Downstate students are briefed before the Brooklyn Free Clinic opens on a recent Wednesday.

The Brooklyn Free Clinic has reached its tenth anniversary, and the caseload is increasing, student leaders said. The East Flatbush clinic is a haven for the uninsured and underserved, connecting hundreds of Brooklyn residents to primary care annually.

SUNY Downstate fourth-year James Wong said the experience has guided his medical education. “It’s been a big part,” James said. “Inspiration is a silly word, but working in this clinic has solidified my commitment to the underserved.”

Every Wednesday night, from 5 to 10 p.m., students screen 15 to 17 adults for primary care, which works out to 200 to 300 patients annually, said Jack Hessburg, SUNY Downstate fourth-year student and volunteer chief operating officer.

He helps coordinate the patients, volunteers and attending physicians, working alongside Downstate student nurses, occupational and physical therapists, health educators and steering committees. The Brooklyn Free Clinic is a hospital in miniature.

“It’s been great to learn how capably other professions work together,” Jack said, in the PhD program and progressing toward a career in emergency medicine.

The dozen or so patients waiting for the clinic to open could be suffering from anything, Jack said. If it’s an emergency, they go to the ER at Kings County Hospital. Most are longitudinal patients suffering from diabetes, for example, or people in their twenties and thirties between insurance providers.

There is a greater student interest, and greater need for the clinic in the community, Jack said. The Brooklyn Free Clinic, however, is at capacity for both volunteers and patients. Expansion will come with time, donations and a new location, potentially closer to the Downstate campus.

The current facility operates during the day at 840 Lefferts Ave. as UHB Family Health Services.

Downstate student volunteerism has spilled out into the community with blood pressure screenings and patient education, and a partnership with Health and Education Alternatives for Teens (HEAT). But as far as the clinic goes, Jack said, “We are over capacity, almost always.”


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