polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Community Health and the Clinic of the People

by Melissa García Lamarca

Starting off 2010 with a visit to my brother in Washington DC, we stumbled across a place close to his flat in Colombia Heights called La Clínica del Pueblo, the Clinic of the People, whose mission is to provide culturally appropriate health services to persons in the Latino community regardless of their ability to pay. Built on values of unconditional care, perseverance, quality care and community, the 85-employee and 100-volunteer strong clinic sees access to quality health service as a fundamental human right and as a responsibility of each patient, a hugely important and greatly needed approach in a country with no socialised health system and a vast number of undocumented immigrants from Latin America, many of whom live in fear of deportation and do not recieve adequate health care.

La Clínica del Pueblo was founded in Washington DC in 1983 by several Salvadorian activists who recognised the need for health services for refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. Beginning by providing medical services one evening a week by a volunteer staff, over the past 25+ years their service provision has expanded to mental health, alternative medicine and community health education, outreach and prevention, from a specialty clinic model into a family practice model. The Clinic and its patients have been activists, from demonstrating against US military policy in Central America in the 1980s through to successfully pressuring the DC government alongside other clinics to provide health insurance for the city’s underserved population in the mid-1990s through to specific health and related issues of concern to the Latino population such as smoking, diabetes, obesity and immigration policy.

Providing compassionate, culturally sensitive and committed care, where patients are treated with dignity and respect. A safe place where people can go no matter their country of origin, immigration status, origin or sexual orientation, where time is taken to address the needs of the patient in a holistic fashion. An organisation and community that pushes for broader positive change in coalitions in the city and beyond….For me these are all key facets of a true right to the city, and La Clínica del Pueblo provides an approach important for the future of many cities around the world. The coming years will tell what happens to La Clínica amidst current health care reforms and as it is formally recognised as a Federally Qualified Health Centre, moving into the mainstream of the US community-base health care delivery system.

Credits: Photo by Melissa García Lamarca.