Category Archives: Health Care

Why 107 Hot Showers Matter

In one morning alone, 107 men living outside St. Mary’s Dining Room (a full health and social services agency near San Francisco) had come to take hot showers. And what do showers have to do with health? Everything.

I traveled to St. Mary’s Dining Room in Stockton, California recently to visit our free clinic partner as part of the regular visits to clinics that receive our donations of medicines or that are part of our clinic programming. At St. Mary’s, the need is immediately visible. Rows of tents and tarps line the street leading up to the facility. Living inside these tents are many of the patients who rely on a myriad of services provided by St. Mary’s. While the organization has its roots in a soup kitchen opened in 1955, it has evolved into a full service primary care clinic (the Virginia J. Gianellli Medical Clinic), dental office and operatory, social service organization, clothing distributer and shower provider. As Mary Anne Soria, Director of Medical Services explained, “We are more than just a meal.” That’s an understatement.


What St. Mary’s offers is more than services: it provides dignity. The staff at St. Mary’s intimately understands the critical concept of social determinants of health: that health is profoundly affected by the conditions in which we live and goes well beyond clinic walls. Examples of social determinants include not only access to health care services, but also availability of educational and job opportunities, social support, transportation options and cultural offerings. Good health is achieved by more than a diagnosis and a prescription; it is obtained by treating the whole person, beginning with the means to manage the daily reality of their lives.

St. Mary’s addresses poverty by feeding the hungry, addressing health concerns, and as Ms. Soria explains, “Restoring human dignity” to over 700 individuals each day, one shower at a time.

Learn more about our partner, St. Mary’s Dining Room, and their history of “restoring human dignity since 1955.”

How a New Partnership for Health Began in a Sports Stadium in St. Lucia

By Abigail Schultz, Latin America and Caribbean Programs

Two years ago, AmeriCares received an email from Raise Your Voice St. Lucia, an advocacy group that promotes women rights, education and empowerment on the island. Their message to AmeriCares was clear – St. Lucia’s health system was in desperate need of medicines and medical supplies. AmeriCares wanted to find a way to help, and my team, the Latin America and Caribbean Programs team, took up the challenge.

We started having more in-depth conversations with Raise Your Voice about the health infrastructure on the island. How many public hospitals and clinics are on the island? What medicines are they lacking? What are the most common diseases and health concerns of St. Lucians? Are there any NGOs operating in the health sphere?

At that time, we knew there were definite holes that AmeriCares could help fill. But there was an issue: Raise Your Voice did not have the ability to import sea containers of medicines, nor did they have licensed medical professionals on staff. Because of AmeriCares partnership model, it is absolutely critical to find a strong partner with these capabilities. We rely on our partners to assess offers of medicines and supplies, and then distribute the donations among a network of beneficiaries. Their collaboration is key to delivering health care to more people in the most effective way possible, and we were determined to find a partner in St. Lucia.

We were then connected with one of the two public hospitals on the island, St. Jude Hospital, which had a strong interest in partnering with AmeriCares and receiving medical donations. St. Jude was the ideal partner. They had dedicated staff, strong importation capabilities, and significant shortages of medicines and supplies. Even more remarkable was the fact that St. Jude’s original hospital had burnt down in 2009, and since then they had been operating out of the George Odlum Sports Stadium.  They had actually set up shop in this sport facility, abandoned in 2003, where they were providing high quality health care with so few resources that we had to help!

Almost a year after the initial conversation took place, in September 2015, we sent a test shipment to St. Jude Hospital. As with all test shipments, this was AmeriCares first opportunity to present the mechanics of our shipment-building process and partnership expectations to St. Jude staff. The shipment was a huge success and cleared customs faster than we had ever experienced in the region. We were impressed, to say the least, and decided to visit St. Lucia to formalize the partnership.

We continued to be impressed throughout our entire visit – with the health care institutions themselves and the staff at each institution. The institutions we visited were extremely clean and had well-maintained pharmacies. In many ways, the facilities exceeded AmeriCares management standards. We were confident that St. Jude Hospital was in an excellent position to become an AmeriCares partner and thrive in the relationship. After assessing the health needs on the island and the sophisticated management of the health care institutions, we are assured that this will be a strong partnership with national reach.

The Latin America and Caribbean Programs team is looking forward to growing this partnership in St. Lucia and continuing to expand our work in the Caribbean over the coming years!

When a 10-Minute Drive is an Ocean Away

Last week I paid a visit to the University of Miami’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic (UMPMC). The 40-foot bus was parked outside the Center for Haitian Studies in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood as usual – the big blue bus took over the parking lot, with staff, interns, residents and volunteers providing care both in the mobile unit and throughout the Community Center. The services provided to the children visiting the clinic are highly integrated and holistic, ranging from sports physicals and immunizations to specialty care in cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, hematology and nutrition. How does one mobile clinic possibly provide this breadth and depth of care?

Telemedicine. And an innovative medical director committed to serving her young patients with the highest level of continuous care.

The Pediatric Mobile Clinic provides live interactive videoconferencing consultations in which young patients and/or their care givers interact directly with a specialist off site. As Dr. Lisa Gwynn, clinic director explained, “There are major barriers to the 10-minute drive to the closest hospital, from transportation costs and cultural barriers to fear of a bill and inability to pay.” Telemedicine removes those barriers by bringing a specialist right into the clinic with a portable videoconferencing tool that allows patients to interact directly with a provider in the comfort and convenience of their medical home. Gwynn notes she saw the clinic’s patient compliance rate sky-rocket with the integration of this technology in 2013, with 35% of her patients following through and meeting with their specialists to now over 90% of her patients meeting with their specialists.

The neighborhood of Little Haiti is home to one of the largest populations of Haitian immigrants in the country, with the majority of its residents of Haitian origin or descent. It is also an area of high levels of poverty and a lack of primary care providers. 45% of the residents of Little Haiti earn less than $12,000 a year and 40% of its residents have no insurance, compared to 16% of all Floridian residents that live below the poverty line and 20% across the state that have insured.  These demographics and a shortage of providers make it the ideal neighborhood for the Pediatric Mobile Clinic, which rolls out of its parking spot at the University of Miami 5 days a week to park in different high need neighborhoods throughout the city.

On my visit last week, I watched as Gwynn photographed the back of an infant’s head on her cellphone. She then uploaded the photo to an app on her phone which pushed the photo to a pediatric dermatologist for her diagnosis. This store-and-forward technology is yet another telemedicine tool used by the clinic to ensure continuity of comprehensive care. “Telemedicine is absolutely critical for compliance,” Gwynn explains. “My main concern is quality care for patients and their safety.”

a telemedicine machine


Established in 1992 by the Children’s Health Fund as a response to hurricane Andrew, the UMPMC has provided medical care to uninsured children in need for nearly two decades. Services provided include well-visits, sports physicals, immunizations, management of chronic conditions, urgent care, mental health, and social work. To learn more the Pediatric Mobile Clinic, click here.

Innovative Care Delivery: A Charitable Health Center and Pharmacy Tale

By Christina Newport, Program Manager, U.S. Medical Assistance Program in Medical Aid, Health Initiatives, United States

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”Find out here:”]Can a simple change in the delivery of care impact patients’ health?[/inlinetweet] As I opened the door to the Martin Luther King (MLK) Health Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, I was eager to find out.

MLK Outreach 2014The center is like many safety net health organizations that I work with as part of AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program team. The MLK Health Center serves more than 1,000 low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients a year, many with chronic disease. But this center is using a unique group scheduling model and patient-centered care to improve patients’ health, their experience of care, and to reduce costs – the Triple Aim framework for health care reform endorsed by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and other national experts.

Because the U.S. team at AmeriCares is rolling out a new chronic disease care program with the support of the GE Foundation, I wanted to see for myself these innovative approaches to quality care work at a charitable health center, a critical sector of the U.S. safety net.

I could see the difference in the waiting room: Patients were greeting each other by name. I felt like people really knew each other.

And I found out they did: Because they share a diagnosis of diabetes, these patients’ appointments are grouped together and held on the same day every three months. “Setting up clinic days for patients – having patients with the same condition come in regularly as teams with assigned providers – is one way to ensure that patients aren’t slipping through the cracks and are getting the care they need,” Janet Mentesane, Executive Director of the MLK Health Center, told me. Patients have individual appointments with their doctors but also meet together as a group, giving them an opportunity to connect and socialize.

Integrating care this way is having a measureable impact. “We have shown that our approach produces enhanced patient understanding of their conditions and improves health related behaviors,” Robert H. Jackson, MD, founder and Medical Director said. “We have also shown statistically significant improvement in a critical measure of diabetes control.” The MLK Health Center is also at the forefront of diabetes prevention: It is the only charitable clinic currently listed in pending status on the CDC’s National Registry of recognized diabetes prevention programs and offers the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a lifestyle change program targeting patients at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

At the MLK Health Center, I saw how simply providing an opportunity for patients to connect and share with others in similar situations can boost the feeling of humanity in medicine and improve the overall experience of care in a safety net setting. Through the generosity of the GE Foundation, AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program is working to continue to build capacity in other free and charitable clinics throughout the country.

We can use the experience of those like the MLK Health Center not only as a model for our work but as an example for others to learn from.

Intensive Care in Uzbekistan

AmeriCares Senior Associate Dmitriy Popov travels throughout Eurasia to meet with local health partners and learn more about their needs. Recently, Dmitriy visited the Tashkent Regional Branch of the Republican Scientific Center for Emergency Medicine in Chirchik, Uzbekistan. Chirchik is about 20 miles north of the capital city of Tashkent.

The hospital here is typical for Uzbekistan — patients receive care and basic medicines for free, but must pay for any sophisticated medicines, which are in short supply and can be expensive.

AmeriCares has been donating medicines to Uzbekistan since 1997. On my last visit, I met a patient who was memorable for his gratitude: This gentleman had been in his orchard picking cherries for his grandchildren when the bench he was standing on gave way. His daughter called an ambulance; he was rushed to the hospital and had surgery for internal injuries. Luckily for him and other surgery patients that day, the hospital had received a shipment of IV fluids from AmeriCares. These fluids are crucial during and after surgery. His daughter, a nurse, was relieved the needed medicines were available and at no cost.

With a proper fluid balance, this Chirchik grandfather will likely recover faster. Last year, AmeriCares sent nearly 3 million units of medical supplies to Uzbekistan, including this IV solution. Meeting this patient and his daughter, I am reminded how important each donation can be.

Learn more about AmeriCares work in Uzbekistan here.