Cold waiting rooms, confusing forms, and being talked at in technical terms have become hallmarks of most North American health care experiences. But Head & Hands, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing youth health care and health education, has a different approach.
Founded in 1970, at the height of the Women’s Health and Free Clinic Movement drive in North America, Head & Hands started as an attempt to counter an increasingly medicalized and impersonal view of health care. Today, using a model based on egalitarianism and accessibility, it still offers an alternative, holistic approach to the distribution of medical services.
Armed with a mission to “facilitate social change and the empowerment of youth,” and to “promote [youth] physical and mental well being,” Head & Hands provides outreach, sexual education, support networks for young parents, and counseling services. They also run a free clinic.
The clinic, which, according to Executive Director Marlo Turner Ritchie, is “one of the cornerstone services at Head & Hands,” is an example of a truly personal and inclusive health care space. Located in a converted apartment at 5833 Sherbrooke O., the clinic provides a wide variety of medical services – from STI testing, pre-natal care, and hormone replacement therapy, to caring for a sore throat or stomach ache – to anyone between the ages of 12 and 25 years.
If a patient has medical coverage, Head & Hands bills their insurance companies for care costs, but it covers the fees for those without coverage. “It’s a ‘you can’t pay, we don’t turn you away,’” policy, according to Ritchie. Donations are suggested in order to keep Head & Hands’s services viable and accessible, although, as Fundraising and Developing Coordinator, Leah Dolgoy says, “if [that donation] is a barrier in any way, then it absolutely is not expected.”
As they work toward a more equitable health care system, Head & Hands organizers say that education, empowerment, and the provision of non-judgmental spaces also play a large role in the philosophy and approach of the clinic and its organization.
Dolgoy describes the clinic – a contrast to the cold and sterile atmosphere that is often encountered in traditional hospitals and doctors’ offices – as having a “youth-friendly vibe,” and a “homey” waiting room that offers reading materials and fair-trade coffee.
“We believe that given the right tools and kind of space, then people are in the best position to make decisions for themselves,” Dology says.
The clinic – open on Tuesdays and Thursdays – accepts 20 youths per week by random draw. The clinic’s doctor, Pierre-Paul Tellier – also director of McGill’s student health services – and a health educator see no more than ten patients per evening, to ensure there is sufficient time to have a dialogue with each patient, creating a more intimate relationship between patient and caregiver, and allowing for a better understanding of individual needs.
By breaking down the patient-doctor dichotomy, and attempting to integrate education and a more open dialogue into medical care, Head & Hands provides an invaluable service: putting health back into the hands of those who experience it.
On September 21, Head & Hands is working with the Farha Foundation for Ça Marche, a walk that serves as a fundraising initiative for AIDS prevention and care, and raises money for Head & Hands educational initiatives. For more information visit headandhands.ca