| A clean bill of health

Head & Hands clinic offers an alternative philosophy on health care

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