Celebrating the Einstein Community Health Outreach (ECHO) Free Clinic
On September 25, 1999, Einstein medical students working under the supervision of physicians from the Institute for Family Health (the Institute) began to offer free healthcare services at the institute’s Walton Family Health Center to uninsured individuals in the Bronx. In doing so, they became the first student-run, physician-supervised free clinic in New York City.
Nearly a quarter century later, the Einstein Community Health Outreach Free Clinic, or ECHO, is one of six such clinics in the New York area and serves as a national model for such clinics across the United States. To date, more than 3,500 Einstein students have contributed time and skills to the clinic since it opened. Each Saturday, the students and their supervising physicians take care of 30 to 45 adults who might otherwise be unable to access healthcare.
“From the very beginning, our aim has been to serve those working poor who couldn’t afford insurance and those not eligible because of immigration status,” said Arvind Dev, communications officer on the ECHO Board and a member of the class of 2026. “With the support we receive from our annual gala, we’ve been able to expand our services and offer care patients from beyond the Bronx. We’ve had patients come to us from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, as well as from the greater metropolitan area.”
“Even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there are people who are still left out,” observed Sarah Nosal, M.D., class of 2004, who is now vice president for innovation and optimization and chief medical information officer for the Institute, and associate medical director for the ECHO clinic, as well as an adjunct clinical instructor in family and social medicine. “I’ve been able to witness the growth from the early days of ECHO, and each change has allowed us to keep pace with the needs of so many individuals.”
“There can be as many as 40 students on hand on any given Saturday, filling a variety of roles, along with two to three physicians to supervise them,” noted Amarilys Cortijo, M.D., medical director for the clinic and adjunct clinical assistant professor of family and social medicine. “While there can be challenges to caring for patients who have often gone without routine care for years, and training and managing so many students, the work is immensely rewarding. It is critical that future doctors learn how to care for those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. The enthusiasm, passion, and compassion the students bring to their roles is inspiring and energizing as well.”
The ECHO Clinic Gala
To mark the ongoing growth and success of ECHO, an annual gala was established in 2014, when the students organized “An Evening with ECHO: Celebrating 15 Years of Community Outreach.” Since then, a gala has been held each year to help raise funds to support the clinic’s efforts and enhance its services.
In recent years that has meant being able to pay for civil surgeons, who can perform immigration medical exams that involve a variety of lab tests, vaccinations, and paperwork. It also has permitted students to provide community members with educational information on important health issues through classroom talks and health fairs.
“When we were planning the first gala, we had wanted to offer our patients long-acting, reversible contraception, such as IUDs; however, we were unable to afford the associated costs. We decided that instead of just celebrating Einstein’s 15th anniversary, we would raise money for women’s health, specifically to fund IUDs, and this launched the annual ECHO gala we know today,” recalled Lauren Roth, M.D., class of 2016, who helped spearhead the event at that time.
Now an assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein, as well as inaugural course leader for the College of Medicine’s longitudinal service learning program, she noted, “Having the opportunity to serve the most vulnerable, uninsured, and under-resourced patients in the Bronx is an incredibly humbling experience and also among the most impactful that I’ve carried with me through residency training and now as a practicing pediatrician in the Bronx. It was also one of my motivators when developing the new service learning course at Einstein, to ensure students have opportunities to reflect on these experiences and to foster sustainable partnerships with community organizations in the Bronx.”
The clinic also offers students insights into all aspects of a medical practice, from scheduling appointments and organizing patient records to ordering instruments and other resources and knowing how to speak to, listen to, and take care of patients.
Dr. Roth added, “The gala allows us to share the clinic’s successes with alumni, staff, faculty, and students, celebrate and appreciate our partners, and envision what more can be possible as we strive to provide equitable access to quality care.”
Arvind agreed. “The event unites alumni, volunteers, friends, family, and supporters in celebrating our clinic’s profound and sustained impact on our community. We celebrate past achievements while anticipating a future in which healthcare access for all continues to thrive.”
This year’s gala takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, November 30, 2023, at Maestro’s Caterers, in the Bronx.
“We’ve got a wonderful program planned,” said Arvind. “Dean Tomer will offer a keynote address and we’ll be honoring our partnership with the family medicine clerkship team. Since 2006, working at the clinic is part of the third-year clerkship rotation in family and social medicine.
There also will be hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, dinner, dancing, a silent auction, and a raffle.
In addition, an anonymous donor has underwritten the gala, which means that the entire contribution from gala ticket purchases will be completely tax-deductible. “This generous gift represents the deep commitment of the community to the ECHO Clinic,” noted Arvind. “We are deeply appreciative of this remarkable and generous support.”
Visit the ECHO Gala webpage to make a donation or to request being added to the event waiting list.
Posted on: Thursday, November 30, 2023