When Dr. Daniel Nesi was treating a child whose family had no health insurance, he was deeply concerned about the matter and took his concerns to Doylestown Hospital’s president and CEO Richard Reif.
As they discussed the difficult challenges for the uninsured, Dr. Nesi, then the hospital’s chief of staff, and Reif quickly agreed it was the hospital’s responsibility to provide services for those in need in Bucks County.
“Dr. Nesi and I shared the belief that the community would be supportive of a free clinic ‘to be so accessible, so respectful, so welcoming, that neither lack of funds nor embarrassment,’ would get in the way of keeping all members of our community healthy,” said Reif, in an email.
That was in 1994. Soon after, The Free Clinic of Doylestown opened its doors one day a week. The hospital’s doctors and nurses staffed the clinic, housed on the ground floor of the hospital’s Doylestown campus.
Renamed in 2008 to honor philanthropist and “passionate advocate” for the underserved, Ann Silverman, the Ann Silverman Community Health Clinic now operates five days a week, offering care to approximately 2,600 patients a year, said Meri Gaumond, the center’s executive director who holds a Master’s degree in counseling. Over its three decades of service, she said, 78,000 people, ranging in age from 5 to 90 have come for care.
“It’s more than our responsibility, it is our duty, our mission, our honor to keep our clinic compassionate and professional in all care aspects,” said Gaumond.
With a network of 245 doctors, nurses, dentists, eye care specialists, interpreters and social workers who volunteer their time to care for the clinic’s patients, both at the center and in their own offices, Gaumond said, “We are able to address the whole person.”
One area of care where the clinic is currently experiencing a shortage is pediatrics, said the director. “We are struggling to find pediatricians and pediatric nurses,” she said. Psychologists, social workers and counselors are also needed.
While the clinic began as strictly a medical provider, Gaumond said, it became “inescapable” that poor dental health was a critical concern and so dentists were enlisted to lend their services. In time, as it became apparent that patients were also in need of support for anxiety, depression and PTSD, counselors were also brought on board.
Today, there are four medical suites, two dental and three behavioral health rooms within the small clinic. Six full-time and four part-time staff operate the healthcare center, which depends not only on its professional volunteers, but also on generous donors, grants, fundraising events, the Village Improvement Association and the hospital’s donated lab and diagnostic services, said Gaumond.
Many patients are from Central America and others are Ukrainian, Russian and French, the director said. Often those with rare diseases are seen, including one suffering from a disease that causes him to grow three to four times faster than normal. The clinic is supporting him as he’s seen by a physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s hospital.
“We see broken lives that we’re able to restore. We are their medical home,” said Gaumond, who came to the U.S. from Albania when she was 21.
“When you feel better about your health, you feel better about your future,” she said.
To celebrate the dedicated work of all those who support the nonprofit, a unique fundraiser is planned for March 1 at the Warrington Country Club to mark the clinic’s 30th anniversary.
“Dancing for Buck$” will feature six volunteer dancers, who are being trained by professionals at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Doylestown. Each will dance with one of the studio’s professionals, and a select panel of judges will choose two winners. The judges include Tony Dovolani, from Dancing with the Stars, Vaughn Hebron, from the Eagles and Philip Yang, a former professional dancer.
From the Waltz and the Fox Trot to the Tango and the Paso Doble, dancers will be showing off their skills.
The public’s invited to see the dancers’ progress and vote for their favorites at www.aschealthclinic.org/dancing-for-bucks. Tickets for the event are also available.
The festivities also include a DJ and an open dance floor, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner.
“Join us as we dance with purpose, celebrating the spirit of community and advocating for accessible healthcare,” said Gaumond.