DeSales University physician assistant students treat patients at the Free Clinic at the Allentown Rescue Mission.
On Wednesday, February 8, 2012, the DeSales University Free Clinic at the Allentown Rescue Mission celebrated its fifth anniversary of operation. A dinner was held at 6:00 p.m. at The Cosmopolitan Restaurant, approximately 3 blocks from the Allentown Rescue Mission.
During the dinner, speakers, including Gary Millspaugh, executive director of the Allentown Rescue Mission, spoke about the clinic, and a brief anniversary video was shown. Ellen Kern, chief of staff to Pennsylvania State Senator Pat Browne, presented a Senate proclamation.
The DeSales Free Clinic is staffed by physician assistant students, faculty from the program, and more than 50 volunteer doctors and physician assistants from the community. More than 900 individual patients have been treated since the clinic opened in January 2007. No patient is ever turned away or charged for services, and the operation is run entirely on donations.
The DeSales Free Clinic was initially open every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. until the last patient was treated. “We originally saw about four to six men during that time,” said Corinne Feldman, assistant professor in the University’s physician assistant (PA) program and one of the clinic’s coordinators. “Now there are about 15 to 25 patients on a Thursday.”
Beginning in October 2011, the clinic expanded its hours to include Tuesday nights—making the treatment of patients more manageable.
The idea for the clinic came from Feldman and her husband Brett M’07, who was a physician assistant (PA) student at DeSales at the time. The couple had volunteered at a homeless clinic while she attended PA school at Midwestern University. Brett approached both the Mission and the PA program faculty with a proposal, and together with Wayne Stuart, M.D., interim program director in the DeSales PA program, helped the DeSales Free Clinic become a reality.
The decision to set up the free clinic in the Allentown Rescue Mission, which has been providing services to Allentown and the surrounding communities for more than 100 years, was inspired because that mission is the largest shelter in the area—housing more than 100 men at one time.
Previously, the residents of the rescue mission either went to a local emergency room or to a family practice and the shelter paid the bill. The mission gave the clinic two remodeled rooms in its downtown Allentown location, and, according to Brian Phillips, the program director at the Mission, the clinic currently is serving the approximately 60 people who typically stay in the Emergency Homeless Shelter during the winter.
Care at the clinic focuses on acute minor illness, prevention, and chronic illness control, and students and faculty attempt to provide medical care and education for the community and for a population that has difficulty establishing trusting relationships. The clinic is accessible to the homeless, is inexpensive, benefits the city and established hospitals, and foremost, provides quality care.
DeSales PA students continue to be involved at the clinic and to benefit from their experiences. For students in the graduate phase of the program, rotation at the clinic is a requirement. First-year graduate students perform histories and physical examinations of the patient while second year graduate students provide guidance and create plans of care.
“The students find this program valuable,” Feldman says, noting that within 10 minutes, students filled the 16 to 18 volunteer slots needed over the 2011 Christmas break.
“We create practitioners who are able to go out to the community and understand,” Feldman says of the benefits the students find in working at the clinic. Students also learn the difficult skill of earning a patient’s trust—of treating all their patients with dignity and compassion, without judgments on who they are or who they used to be.
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