Correction: On the original broadcast, due to a reporting error, we incorrectly referred to Physicians for a National Health Program. The correct name of the group is Physicians for a National Healthcare Plan.
When Occupy Wall Street’s tent city was up and running, one of its features was a so-called medical clinic where doctors and nurses volunteered their services. The clinic didn’t disappear when police cleared the park in November. It still lives on in the form of a volunteer first aid center in Lower Manhattan.
For the past month, they’ve been providing basic medical care near the corner of Rector and Greenwich –as part of a renewed Occupy effort targeting health care. The clinic is in the back right corner of a glassed-in store front. There’s a sign-in a sheet at cubicle in the back.
It’s where Chris Mastrinnardi is waiting. He’s wearing black frame glasses, a self-designed t-shirt, and a brown leather Jacket with fringe. He also has a few facial piercings.
He’s been here twice before to see a volunteer psychiatrist who wrote him free prescription for his ADD. But that’s not the only reason he likes the doctors here. “They’re really direct and nice and more amazing than I imagine a doctor can be for a medication that basically I need to be able to read,” said Mastrinnardi. He says he lost his insurance shortly after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 2008 and hasn’t been able to afford his ADD medication since.
Along with the psychiatrist, doctors, nurses, and herbalists and acupuncturists also do shifts here. Administrator Rene Ruiz says the staff is quite aware the space’s limitations.“This is not like a MASH unit this is not an army hospital,”said Ruiz. “This is very much a first aid area.”
In fact, Ruiz and other volunteers won’t even call it a clinic. After leaving Zuccotti Park, the group provided the same services out in the open. About a month ago, Trinity Church let them use part of the storefront – it’s also a community center called Charlotte’s place.
The center has limitations, says Michael Reilly teaches at Columbia School of Public Health., but it’s less intimidating for someone who wouldn’t otherwise seek medical care. “Maybe you’re providing that access point,” said Reilly. “Maybe you’re providing a place a point of entry for an individual who wouldn’t have normally sought medical attention for their ailment and now they’re going to come to someone who will tell them to go to a hospital and get the care that they need.”
Hospital access is important to the group. Most of the volunteer doctors are part of an Occupy offshoot called Healthcare for the 99 percent. It’s connected with a larger non-profit called Physicians for a National Healthcare Plan. That group’s long-term goal is healthcare reform.
But, for now they’re tackling more local New York health issues. The group held a recent meeting partly about a February 9th protest of a condo development here St. Vincent’s hospital used to be. At the meeting someone wanted to know how many people showed up.
“I think maybe 40 mostly from the St. Vincent’s organization,” said Katie Robbins, who was taking minutes. The group meets every Sunday in a public atrium not far from Zuccotti park. Robbins believes the healthcare angle makes Occupy Wall Street’s message palatable for people who might not otherwise be sympathetic to the group.
Free first aid doesn’t hurt either, which why volunteers hope to take the medical services beyond a downtown storefront.
[Correction: On the original broadcast, we incorrectly referred to Physicians for a National Health Program. We regret this error.]