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Free Medical Care for Loved Ones

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – This week, people who don't normally go to the doctor may get dragged there. The Near East Side Community Health Task Force is offering its third annual health promotion, "Take a Loved One to the Doctor." Free medical and dental visits are available all week at a variety of participating health care facilities.

Health disparities, particularly among residents in Buffalo's East and West side neighborhoods is not a new problem. The Near East Side Community Task Force was formed to help close the gap in health care among Buffalo's racial and ethnic populations.

The campaign has become one small victory. Francesca Messiah is Executive Director for the task force. She said their appointments for the week are already at nearly 100 percent capacity.

"Because of our outreach efforts, through billboards, through fliers, through the the Internet, it has not been difficult at all," said Messiah. "I would say that I have at least twenty calls to return."

But it wasn't always that way. The first year the free doctors' visits were offered, the task force had to be creative to get people to come in.

Advocates say that people who have not been to a doctor for years often have a fear of doctors, or they lack insurance to pay for care. And that can be especially difficult for men.

Barbara Franklin is a past director for the task force and currently runs an outreach program at Sheehan Memorial Hospital. In the early days of the program, Franklin said they made the idea as attractive as possible for men to go to the doctor.

"I used pretty community health advocates," said Franklin. "And you had to use what men would like, they like to talk to beautiful women. So, once they say hi and we open up a dialogue, we say, when was the last time you were to a doctor?"

Franklin said they also talk to the wives, daughters and girlfriends, and ask them to help do the persuading. It proved successful. Franklin said about half of the people who come in for the free visits and follow-up are men.

Men and women who would like a free visit to the doctor or dentist are still welcome to call for an appointment. Free visits will be scheduled this week, or beyond if necessary, at one of several participating facilities.