Making a difference

Volunteer with the free clinic

Tejas Joshi

“Show me something fun to do in Cleveland,” offered the emcee of the improv show. In response, one troupe member jokingly threw her hands up, shook her head and stepped to the back of the stage, while a separate pair of students acted out a phone theft.

Now, the group was a comedy troupe and the skit was admittedly hysterical, but it highlighted a very real sense of distance and disappointment about Cleveland that I see all across campus. For students at Case Western Reserve, complaints about the city are ubiquitous, but why not take advantage of Center for Civic Engagement and Learning or go alone to better get to know the city. I’m not saying that life in Cleveland is a hoot 24/7, but if you don’t feel proud of Cleveland, you have a responsibility to help it change. One of the best opportunities to help is closer than the main quad for many students.

There are only two places in Ohio where drug addicts can trade in a used syringe for a clean one. The oldest of these—the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland—is only a ten-minute walk away from the North Residential Village. Every day, the free clinic sends out a van out into the nearby community to collect used syringes that might be tainted with HIV or hepatitis C. An easy criticism of the policy is that it enables drug users. However, the data suggests otherwise. The HIV rate for injection drug users in Cleveland in 2012 was at the lowest rates (0.8 percent) ever recorded up to that time according to Cleveland Department of Public Health, a significant drop from the 18 percent of 1994. While there is no easy way to demonstrate correlation between the exchange program and the drop, it seems very likely that the free clinic played an important role.

The clinic provides a variety of services besides the HIV outreach program. As the name implies, the non-profit clinic is entirely free for its clients. Everything from pulmonary medicine to dental exams to psychology is provided for the uninsured or underinsured. The free clinic runs with the aid of 52 staff members and more than 600 volunteers. However, the role of the clinic is changing, and residents of the CWRU community could significantly affect their community in the process.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, provided the opportunity for states to expand the existing Medicaid program to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit. After a number of states contested the law, the Supreme Court ultimately decided that the act was constitutional, but gave states the authority to decide whether to expand the existing program. Once expanded, the program would provide crucial support for over 275,000 underinsured, and the federal government would subsidize over $10.9 billion for the program. While Governor Kasich supports Medicaid expansion, the Ohio House and Senate struck the proposal from the budget. The Free Clinic would drastically benefit from Medicaid expansion because, as a community health center, the government would cover the costs of the majority of their services.

You can directly and tangibly better the area by volunteering at the clinic or supporting the expansion of Medicaid or the myriad of other opportunities the school provides. The efforts will be transformative for not only the city, but yourself as well. When I started volunteering with the HIV syringe exchange program—started to meet and hear the diverse stories of the cities’ injection drug users—my strict and quixotic perspective on drug use fell apart, and I gained a much greater appreciation for those in the city who work tirelessly against poverty, addiction and depression. So volunteer. Sign your name on the upcoming petition to put the expansion of Medicaid and keep in touch with the free clinic through social media. Perhaps, just maybe, after this effort, Cleveland’s claim to fame will no longer read “At least we’re not Detroit.”

Tejas Joshi is a pre-med, math major enjoying his first year with clubs including the Athenian, CaseEMS, YUVA, ISA and RHA. In his spare time at CWRU, Tejas enjoys playing Smash Bros, constructing ethical systems from scratch and long walks on the beach. Just remember that in reading his articles, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless the author from liability for personal injury, property damage, wrongful death or any other loss, damage or cost that they may incur.