Spirit of Giving: Uninsured get free health care

August 11, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Zumba classes fill up quickly at health clubs across the country. The popular Latin-inspired fitness program is also a hit here in West Town, not only because the class is said to be fun, but also because it's free. It's just one of several fitness and health education classes offered at Community Health.

"It's totally awesome to have to this free clinic here for us. We all love it. I come here twice a week," said Lora Santiago, a fitness class participant.

Community Health is a full-service medical center that serves adults who are uninsured, but do not qualify to receive federal aid.

"About 80 percent of our patients are either working or in working families. So, it's basically the working poor. I personally have noticed a lot of recently laid off workers in the last couple of years," said Babs Waldman, a volunteer medical director.

Community Health offers more than twenty specialties, including an on-site lab and dental clinic. All are manned by volunteers.

"Rheumatology, hematology, nephrology, cardiology. We have an ultrasound machine that we purchased, I call it my Cadillac, and we have a radiologist who's reading them for free," said Waldman.

There are about 400 doctors, nurses and other providers from local hospitals volunteer. And another 350 volunteers make up the support staff.

Largely because of donations from drug companies, patients get their prescriptions filled free. Each patient also gets one-on-one counseling in English, Spanish or Polish.

Patients say the clinic is a life-saver.

"I wouldn't be alive if wasn't for this place right now because they take care of me. They give me all of my medicines that I need. I finally got a primary doctor. If it wasn't for here, I don't know what I would do," said Craig Leach, an uninsured patient.

Community health is funded entirely through private donations, with the exception of a few grants. Last fall, it opened a second clinic in the Englewood neighborhood.

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