Global relief network opens health clinic in Rockaways

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

A free clinic for adults without health insurance opened its doors days before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

Doctors of the World USA held a grand opening Saturday for its Rockaways Free Clinic, at 230 Beach 102nd St. The organization is part of France’s Médecins du Monde international healthcare network, which operates in 80 countries.

Program Coordinator Noah Barth said the organization had boots on the ground in the peninsula about a week after the storm with volunteer medical professionals making home visits to hurricane victims.

“Over the course of doing that, we came to understand how bad the health situation was and how few resources there were, especially for the uninsured,” Barth said, explaining that plans for the clinic were in the works back in January.

Initially, the clinic will be open for 12 hours per week — from noon until 8 p.m. Thursdays and from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturdays to accommodate working families — but organizers hope to expand service depending on patients’ needs.

For peninsula residents, accessing healthcare can be difficult with medical facilities spread out throughout the Rockaways, and some doctors leaving the area after the superstorm, according to Dr. Amber Featherstone, the clinic’s medical director, and one of three staff members at the Rockaways site.

“Certainly people have the same problems that they had before, but now there are fewer medical providers,” she said, explaining that the clinic had been the site of a doctor’s office, which was flooded during Sandy.

“It’s also an area with only one hospital for about 115,000 people, so it’s quite a large area and it’s underserved and the hurricane only helped to exacerbate that,” she said. “Now on top of that, there are a lot of stress-related issues.”

Peninsula Hospital shut down last year, and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital — the remaining facility on the peninsula — closed its chemical dependency unit and was under financial strain, staff said in August.

Featherstone said the clinic planned to partner with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens for case management services, as well as the Visiting Nurse Service, which runs the Disaster Distress Program, a 10-week therapy program in which nurses work with participants in their homes to address disaster-related stress, anxiety and depression.

“Certainly [residents] are still experiencing the effects of Hurricane Sandy,” Featherstone said.

In addition, the staffs hope to help patients manage chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and asthma and work with the large senior population on the peninsula.

“When you are uninsured, proper disease management can be difficult,” said Barth, who has been working in the Rockaways for the past 10 months.

Barth said organizers so far had received a strong response from Rockaways residents.

“This was something that was very much welcomed by the community,” he said.

The organization is also seeking medical professionals and others to volunteer at the clinic.

For more information, call 718-634-4941 or email rockawaysclinic@doctorsoftheworld.org.

Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at timesledgerphotos@gmail.com by phone at 718-260-4589.

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