When 19-year-old Brown University pre-med student Garret Johnson was scrubbing greasy floors at a restaurant in Massachusetts last summer, he realized two things.
He discovered that despite his initial reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor, it had to be better than scrubbing floors.
With that decision set, Johnson began to notice that most of his co-workers, who were predominately recent immigrants, were uneducated about some health issues and lacked access to health providers.
“I would talk to them sometimes, and a lot of them didn’t understand what blood pressure was,” Johnson said.
After perusing the computer and looking at stats on how prevalent diabetes and high blood pressure are in the Hispanic community, Johnson decided to take action.
Johnson is leading an effort to get undergraduates, mainly pre-med students, out in the field to get hands-on training doing health screening, while providing a badly needed service to an underserved demographic in Providence. And he wants his program to grow and expand to other universities.
Johnson put out a call for applicants and 132 Brown undergraduates responded. Thirty were initially chosen but now that number has dropped to 28. Then Johnson reached out to see how his group of volunteers could legally help the community.
That’s when he came across Clinica Esperanza/Hope Clinic, a free clinic co-founded by Dr. Anne De Groot, at 60 Valley St., Olneyville. The clinic provides basic health care screenings for things such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, as well as doctor referrals if necessary.
The clinic has 32 health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and medical/nursing students. It was founded in August 2007 by a group of medical volunteers based in Providence who initially performed their services for the Rhode Island Free Clinic in South Providence.
In November 2009, a temporary clinic opened at the AIDS Care Ocean State office, 557 Broad St., Providence. In May 2010, Clinica Esperanza opened its permanent facility on Valley Street. Today, Clinica Esperanza is thriving, scheduling appointments two to three weeks out, serving 1,200 patients and filling a need that largely had been unmet, De Groot said.