04/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

1,000 Attend Free Medical Clinic As Aetna Axes Jobs

Hartford, CT: In the "Insurance Capital of the Country" 1,000 people showed up for the chance to get free medical care as part of the National Association of Free Clinics effort to highlight the lack of health insurance in the six states of Blue Dog Democrats. Not lost is the paradox that the free clinic occurred on the same day as Aetna announced yet another round of layoffs in Hartford.

"This event is about getting people who need care into the medical system and connecting with free clinics and other safety-net providers for ongoing treatment," says Nicole Lamoureux, executive director of then National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC). It also highlights the work that 1,200 free and safety-net health clinics do, every day to help serve the uninsured. What they have seen at the other events were patients, 86% working one or more jobs, that have not seen a medical provider in more than 5 years.

"People without insurance are up to four times less likely to have a regular source of health care," Lamoureux said. The pattern of diabetic and cardiovascular patients remain similar throughout the country. Without access to free or reduced cost health care, the uninsured are more likely to wait longer, are sicker and burden emergency departments, all at a greater cost to patient, facility and in the end, taxpayer. Additional clinics are in the works for 2010.

I entered the clinic ebb and flow as a patient, because I, like the 46 million without health insurance, am uninsured. The 1,200 doctors, medical professionals and non-medical volunteers greeted attendees warmly. Winding our way through the line, each patient was escorted from reception, to medical history, blood pressure, temps, to seasonal flu or H1N1 vaccines (my tetanus is now updated) through blood work, EKG's, vision tests and for some: Women's Health before checking out with a copy of their medical record, vaccination forms and medical tests done all as smoothly as if it was a one person office while for a day: the largest clinic in the state. And everyone seemed really happy to be there.

There was a social service arena that featured diverse groups: CT Coalition for Environmental Justice, numerous CT Community Health Centers, United Way, nutrition programs and other health and food security related agencies. All offered info for attendees and those who did not want to go through the clinic had access to programs near their homes, sometimes making them aware of the resources available.

Ralph Freiden, MD, has had a private practice in Boston for 30 years. He volunteered working triage at the beginning of the line, determining who needed to be seen immediately.

"I've always felt medical care is a right, not a privilege, that is why I became a doctor, to help."

He first heard about the Free Clinics watching MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, called NAFC, hopped on a plane attending one day clinics in Little Rock, Kansas City and now Hartford.

AmericaCares sent volunteers to the Hartford Clinic to assist with patients. "This one-day free clinic will help draw attention to the growing health care crisis in our own backyard, and will give many state residents the chance to see a doctor for the first time in years," said AmeriCares Free Clinics Executive Director Karen Gottlieb, a member of the National Association of Free Clinics Board of Directors.

"Our clinics in Bridgeport, Danbury and Norwalk have never been busier; treating 1,400 new patients last year alone," said volunteer Jack Lavalette, MD a private practice pediatrician from Glastonbury, CT, whoresponded to an e-mail request from The CT Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians. His practice is in a rural setting where his patients have good health insurance, the parents' priority is to make sure the kids are seen, appointments are kept, and healthy food is available. One of Dr. L's young patients at the clinic had been ill the day before at school. Brought in by her dad, who had recently lost his retail position, making the decision between bringing her to the ER the night before or waiting was a tough choice. It is an agonizing decision many parents are forced to make. Fortunately, his 6 year old needed a few prescriptions and was on her way, to her father's relief.

Dr. Lavalette noted seeing many young adults in the "Lost Age", those no longer on their parent's policy, those just starting on their careers and those where health insurance is just not part of what they do. At the clinic he saw a young man, who was treated for cancer as a teenager, but without insurance, had not seen a doctor in years for any follow up. The goal of the day was to get patients checked out and connected with a local resource for follow up.

For 1,000 patients, this Free Clinic could not come soon enough.