Philadelphia clinic provided low-cost medical care for “Alejandro”
By Alan M. Murray
The nurse suggested we leave the room for a few minutes. She thought it might be easier for “Alejandro” if he didn’t have to watch her prepare eight syringes.
But after we stepped into the hallway, the door stayed open just long enough that he saw her pull out a needle and place it on a tray. He looked at me, groaned, and sighed as the door shut.
During our training for the Colombia Hosting Program, our adoption agency recommended that we try to find a doctor that would be willing to give him a physical to verify sketchy medical information. Since the children only come with emergency insurance, we searched for several weeks for a low-cost option.
Puentes de Salud is a non-profit clinic located in downtown Philadelphia recently featured on HBO Documentaries. Founded by three physicians who were frustrated by frequently seeing patients in emergency rooms with preventable problems, they reached out to community leaders to find a way to help Latino immigrants. They founded the clinic that offers high quality, low-cost health care and educational programs.
While they take walk-ins, they recommend appointments. When we called to schedule, a recorded message said they would respond within two to three weeks. But fortunately, a couple days later they called to tell us a pediatrician would be at the clinic the following Monday.
When we arrived, the reception area was filled with people, some sitting at tables, and others on chairs arranged in rows. Many had come for a long wait – some had brought their lunch and others sat playing games on their phones, reading books, or entertaining children.
A lawyer entered the area and announced in Spanish that she was offering free legal advice that afternoon. Two or three people quietly followed her to a back room to get a consultation. Later some students from a local medical school presented a class about nutrition, projecting slides on the back wall. Eventually, we were escorted behind the front desk where a nurse checked Alejandro’s vitals, asked a few questions, and then took us back to an examination room.
Soon Dr. Leonel Toledo, a pediatrician from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who regularly volunteers at the clinic, entered the room. Toledo, fluent in Spanish, was able to quickly set Alejandro at ease. He gave him a complete physical, prescribed some cream to treat the fungal infection on his feet, and then suggested that he receive eight vaccinations.
We were surprised and wondered if it was a good idea to give them all at once, but Toledo assured us that it would be the best way to protect him until we could find a way to bring him home permanently.
We then called Alejandro’s chaperone to get permission to have the vaccinations administered. She sounded grateful, and expressed eagerness to get them done. She then asked to chat with him so she could explain why he needed all those shots.
As needle after needle pierced his left arm, then his right, he closed his eyes and grimaced, but never screamed or cried. The next morning he asked us to take a photo of his arms with his bandages, his badges of courage, for having braved his first physical in the United States.