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Posted August 8, 2006

A success story right where it is needed most!

Mobile clinic gives free health care
outside Hartford Catholic church

By John Bohuslaw
Catholic News Service

HARTFORD, Conn. (CNS) -- A free, mobile health care clinic has begun offering health care one day a week outside a Catholic church in downtown Hartford to help care for the poor and uninsured in one of America's poorest cities.

Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who has committed $100,000 a year for three years in support of the project, dedicated the clinic on July 13. It is one of the initiatives that the 2006 Archbishop's Annual Appeal is supporting.

The primary care clinic, called the Malta House of Care, will put an emphasis on prenatal, gynecological and pediatric care, according to J.P. van Rooy, a member of the Knights of Malta who is spearheading the project.

"The Malta House of Care will provide services regardless of clients' race, religious creed or membership in local churches," said Archbishop Mansell.

Van Rooy said all medications are being provided free of charge to patients, adding that they likely will be provided by local hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and foundations, which already are offering in-kind support to the project. Services and pharmaceuticals will be offered on a first-come, first served basis.

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, which donated the vehicle, has also pledged its support. The mobile clinic bears a St. Francis logo and the eight-pointed cross of the Knights of Malta.

Patients in need of emergency care will be sent to local hospitals.

The initial clinical staff will consist of volunteer health care professionals from the area, including active and retired staff from St. Francis Hospital.

Van Rooy said the Knights of Malta have a strong interest in helping to improve the health of the people of Hartford.

Statistics show that Hartford, which has a population of about 120,000, is ranked as the eighth-poorest city in the United States. More than 10 percent of the population reportedly is uninsured.

Van Rooy said the Knights of Malta envision a staff of at least one physician, several nurses and administrative personnel.

John Schuster has been appointed as executive director of the newly formed Malta House of Care, which will operate the mobile health clinic. Plans call eventually for a building in which to house central operations supplemented by the mobile health clinic.

Schuster said that as the program grows, the van will spend one day at a time at different parish sites in Hartford to determine how many people will come.

He said, "We will adjust the van's future movements to where services are needed." He added that clinicians and others needed to staff the clinic will be volunteers.

Schuster has 25 years of experience in the health care industry, including 10 years during which he was involved in operating a program similar to the one beginning in Hartford.

He said that program is successful in Wisconsin and that it is almost completely staffed by medical and administrative volunteers.

Joyce Hodgson Kristoff has been appointed as executive director of the Malta House of Care Foundation and has begun to solicit additional funding.