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Catholic Charities to open clinic

Facility would serve uninsured patients

Saturday, March 08, 2003

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Within the next year Catholic Charities plans to open a Downtown medical clinic to serve uninsured patients for free, using volunteer doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

"We want this to be a very welcoming, very hospitable place that elevates and embraces the dignity of the people who come in. It won't be a place where they walk in and feel like a burden," said Michael Andreola, a spokesman for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Donald Wuerl jump-started the fund raising yesterday by donating $250,000 -- one-tenth of the estimated cost to open and run the clinic for a year.

The diocesan money will be used as a challenge grant to match gifts from other donors.

According to diocesan officials, the $250,000 came from donors who wanted to support a project to serve the poor.

"As a diocese we recognize the importance of proper health care. We want to make sure that people without means are provided with at least minimal health care. We especially want to support Catholic Charities in this program as a way of motivating others to do the same," Wuerl said.

The gift was timed to coincide with next week's "Cover the Uninsured Week," in which a broad national coalition of religious and public interest groups want to raise awareness about working people who lack medical insurance.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, more than 150,000 residents of Allegheny County have no health insurance.

The clinic, to be housed in Catholic Charities' headquarters at Ninth Street and Liberty Avenue, will only serve those who do not qualify for government insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, Andreola said.

"A lot of these people tend to be the working poor who make too much to get medical assistance but not enough to buy health coverage," he said.

Although Catholic Charities had been thinking for some time of starting a clinic to provide basic health care to the poor, much of the inspiration came from Dr. Jack McConnell, founder of Volunteers In Medicine, who spoke last year in Pittsburgh at the Bishops Annual Dinner.

McConnell organized retired doctors in Charleston, S.C., to care for people without insurance.

The Pittsburgh clinic "will use completely volunteer providers, whether they are retired or working part-time," Andreola said.

It will cost up to $2.5 million to renovate and equip the offices and finance the first year of operation, he said.

Catholic Charities has been working closely with area hospitals, nonprofit agencies and Operation Safety Net, which provides free medical care to homeless people, Andreola said.

"We are going about this in a way to get everyone involved," he said. "This is something that is not being duplicated in the area."

Ann Rodgers-Melnick can be reached at arodgersmelnick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.

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