By Andrea Levine and Abbe Lyons
"You saved my life. The Free Clinic really saved my life." Ithaca Health Alliance (IHA) Clinic Coordinator, Valarie FitzRandolph, hears thanks and praises like this often. This time it was from a patient who'd been living with unmonitored high blood pressure and no health insurance. He came to see a doctor at no charge and left with a prescription for an inexpensive blood pressure medication.
Full of excitement, another patient told us her blood pressure has gone down and her mood has improved since using herbal medicine. She loved her free appointments with and botanical remedies from 7Song, Herbalist and Director of Holistic Medicine at Ithaca Free Clinic. She reports that she felt like a new person, thankful and hopeful. Still moving through financial and health struggles, she continues to use the Clinic's medical care, counseling, and financial advocacy. She is grateful for the integrated approach to health care. These services are made possible largely by local financial and volunteer support.
Support the Ithaca Health Alliance at GreenStar's Cash Registers
Would you like to be part of this vital force in local health care? Together, as Health Allies, we can sustain the Health Alliance in this effort to equalize access to health care for uninsured and underinsured community members.
The first of November will mark the start of our "Give Thanks for Health Care" register fundraiser at GreenStar. Please ask your cashier to add a donation to your everyday and holiday purchases. If you have access to affordable care, you can help make it possible for those who don't. If you can't afford care, you can still help support services for others and use them yourself as well. All money raised will help ensure that these services continue for our neighbors in Tompkins County and beyond. As one Health Ally says, "It's great to know that these resources are available — just in case."
Located just two blocks from GreenStar at 521 W. Seneca St., Ithaca Free Clinic is open for walk-in hours to see a doctor on Mondays from 2 to 6 pm and Thursdays from 4 to 8 pm. Numerous other services — such as acupuncture, counseling, employment physicals, energy work, herbal medicine, massage therapy, women's health, nutrition consultation, and occupational therapy — are available by appointment. Ithaca Health Fund advocacy volunteers help people apply for prescription assistance and medical debt–reduction programs. You can also get support for quitting tobacco or applying for Medicaid or insurance through the NYS Health Exchange (Affordable Care Act health insurance options).
Since 2006, more than 6,000 people from all walks of life have visited the Clinic. Most are working adults whose income is too high for public insurance but too low for them to afford health insurance or out-of-pocket medical costs. Many will be hard-pressed to purchase health insurance, even subsidized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), without cutting into their budgeted expenses for rent, utilities, food, and transportation. Many of the holistic and therapeutic services offered at the Free Clinic will not be affected by the ACA, because they aren't covered by most insurance.
As one Health Ally, both a patient and volunteer, says, "I can rest easier knowing there's a place to go if I'm hurt. I pay taxes and I have four jobs, but have no insurance. I'm so proud to volunteer here and to come when I'm in need."
Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Clinic. All Clinic providers, reception, and discharge staff are volunteers. It simply isn't possible to come to Ithaca Free Clinic or access IHA Health Fund and Education programs without interacting with a volunteer. Many of these Health Allies were drawn to offer their time and talents out of their own experiences with the challenges of obtaining affordable care for themselves or family members. With a tiny staff of 4 and 120 volunteers, IHA is, as one Ally puts it, "grassroots community health."
Your donations, large and small, make a huge difference. In the past two years, the demand for services has grown faster than ever even as reduced funding has squeezed IHA's already lean budget. Just this past June, the Clinic served a record-breaking number of patients and provided 320 visits, a 150 percent increase over the monthly average. With no state or federal funding, IHA relies on community contributions to create a sustainable model of community-oriented, community-driven solutions that facilitate access to health care with a focus on the uninsured.
Another Health Ally calls the Ithaca Health Alliance "a bridge between how we imagine health today and what it can become," and names this as its purpose: "To nurture each other, because it is needed and because we can. To restore humanity in the face of greed, in a confused world." Ready to give thanks for health care? Every dollar helps!
Andrea Levine is the Outreach and Education Coordinator and Abbe Lyons is the Executive Director of the Ithaca Health Alliance. For more information call 607.330.1253 or visit the Ithaca Health Alliance website.