The Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center offers free medical and dental services to some of Pittsburgh’s poorest uninsured and underinsured residents.
Volunteer Medical Director Dr. Edward Kelly helped launch the clinic nine years ago. The retired orthopedic surgeon spends at least three days a week seeing patients, filling out paperwork and organizing other teams of volunteers who make the services possible.
“When we opened, we were only going to be open for three days a week,” he said. “We had only primary care physicians and dentists. After a few months, we realized we were busier than we thought we’d be. So we ended up being five days a week and we added several specialties.”
Dr. Kelly said the clinic used to see patients who were primarily uninsured. After the Affordable Care Act took effect, thousands of Pittsburgh area residents soon discovered they were underinsured and that some services and medications weren’t fully covered under the marketplace plans.
“We’re finding that people who have what’s called insurance can’t afford what they have and so we’re beginning to see these people who just can’t afford the co-pays,” Kelly said. “So they’re coming to see us.”
“Dr. Kelly is the free health care center,” said Anette Fetchko, Administrator for Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. “He really serves as a mentor, teacher and coach with regard to servant leadership.”
Patients who visit the center for treatment do not have to be Catholic, they just need to prove a financial need.
“So many of the individuals are folks just like you and I, hard working, working two or three jobs some of them,” Fetchko said, “but can’t afford the health exchange programs offered, aren’t eligible for federal subsidized programs such as Medicaid, so they come to the Health Care Center because they’re sick, they need medications and they’ve waited so long to get the health care that they need.”
They are patients like Lyvonne, who lives in North Pittsburgh. She didn’t want to give her last name, but she said she’s grateful for the medical care she received at the clinic.
“I come here for checkups with the eye doctor and then the dentist,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since May. It was actually recommended by a coworker of mine because I don’t have health coverage and I can’t afford to buy private because it’s so expensive and my job doesn’t offer it. I do work.”
Kelly said patients like Lyvonne are the reason he and his volunteers are so committed to the clinic.
“We’re giving people what they need and I can tell you there have been so many people that express their relief that they’re finally being seen,” Kelly said.