Even as the US undertakes the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there are pockets of people who still wont be able to access the nations health care system: the homeless, the mentally ill, those on the fringes of our society. Thats where groups like Gennesaret Free Clinics step in.
It started in 1988, says Gennesaret Executive Director Rebecca Seifert, speaking in her tiny office in the basement of the English Foundation Building. Our founder, Dr. Jim Trippi was volunteering at a soup kitchen at All Saints Episcopal Church at 16th and Central. The church allowed homeless people to sleep on the pews, and so one day he asked a gentleman, So where do you get your healthcare? [The gentleman] said, Nowhere. [Trippi] thought, Well, why am I dipping food when I could be putting my talents to use? He got some of his colleagues together they went around to all of the local missions and shelters and said, Do you have healthcare? And they said, No. And so thats how it started.
In 1990 we added the first mobile RV that goes out and gives care to people, says Seifert. Weve gone through three since then. I came on board in 1995. And in 96 we started our womens health initiative that provide early detection for breast and cervical cancer. In the late 1990s the clinics added dental care programs at some of Indys family shelters, and in 2000 a Health Recovery program for homeless men at 24th and Central.
Their funding comes from everywhere and nowhere, according to Seifert. In kind support comes from St. Vincent, IU Health, and Community Health Network.
On some Saturday mornings a mobile Medical RV heads to Roberts Park — the volunteers go mobile to help those who cant even begin to navigate the health care system. Many of our patients dont know where to go for care, says Seifert. Theyre either going to go to the emergency departments at hospitals — or not at all.
Gennesarets 200-plus volunteers seem to be informed by a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God mentality. One day at Roberts Park one of the docs recognized someone who was a former physician, remembers Seifert. He suffered from mental illness and as a result, he found himself homeless.