The closure of the Caroline Street Clinic in East Baltimore is not just disappointing for the neighborhood it has served for the past two years, but it also signals an irony of the bitterest sort for an institution that has built its reputation on excellence in medicine. Hopkins may have world-class facilities in the hospital and some of the best health care professionals around for the most difficult-to-treat ailments, but when it comes to providing basic care to the neediest in its own backyard, the institution has failed to live up to its billing.
After two years of providing free medical services to uninsured patients, the Caroline Street Clinic has fallen victim to infrastructure problems and funding issues within the University that have nothing to do with the program's goal of aiding the under-served. The University has a responsibility to the Baltimore community to restore the clinic's free services and keep it in operation. Indeed, the University ought to consider providing such care its moral obligation. If Hopkins does not support the downtrodden of Baltimore, who will? The city is riven with large-scale health concerns, a fact that should be nothing short of embarrassing for one of the world's top health care institutions.
The problems that have plagued the clinic seem to be preventable when taking into consideration the vast infrastructure of Hopkins medicine. For one, the clinic should operate under the auspices of the hospital rather than the School of Public Health, as has hitherto been the case. It's ludicrous to think that a clinic established by Hopkins must fight to gain access to laboratory testing, specialty care and referral systems. And with the number of doctors and doctors-in-training who are itching for experience at Hopkins, the clinic should not have to suffer from understaffing or limited operating hours. The University and the hospital should encourage its doctors and medical students to serve the communities closest to them -- this not only improves the quality of the medical practitioners, but also brings the University closer to Baltimore.
But the project of providing a free urban clinic is, of course, much more than a public relations stunt, even for a University that needs to improve its local image. The people who will suffer most from the clinic's closure are those who have few other medical resources -- they are uninsured and often living in poverty, battling against chronic health problems that are best treated on a long-term basis.
The increasingly prohibitive cost of health care is a nationwide problem that the Hopkins medical institution should put resources toward fighting. Closing a free clinic, without making amends to the community it is abandoning, is definitely a move in the wrong direction.