Guilderland students help the uninsured

While mowing her lawn one Saturday morning two years ago, the vice president of marketing at Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Services received an unusual phone call from Devang Bhoiwala, a Guilderland High School student.

Bhoiwala, now a junior at Guilderland High, was interested in Whitney Young's programs for the uninsured, and he called Mary Alice Russo to ask about ways he could volunteer.

I'll never forget it because it was the oddest thing, said Russo, who is also the executive director of the center's foundation.

Their conversation led to an ongoing partnership between the health center and the Students for Improving Health Care Club at Guilderland High, a group Bhoiwala founded in May 2006.

Last month the club held its first fundraiser for Whitney Young, raising $1,142 to help cover the costs of treating uninsured patients.

"We felt this organization, the Whitney Young Health Center, was really helping the community," said Bhoiwala. "Getting care when you can't afford it is hard to come to terms with."

Uninsured patients make up 32 percent of the 18,000 patients Whitney Young serves annually, Russo said. They are charged on a sliding scale based on family size and income.

The organization offers primary medical and dental care, as well as HIV and addiction services at its various centers in Albany and Troy. It spends $2.2 million of its $13 million annual budget on charity and uncompensated care.

Initially, Students for Improving Health Care began volunteering at Whitney Young and learning about the area's uninsured population.

"We wanted to be educated in what we were advocating," said Bhoiwala, the club's president.

Many of the students planned to enter the medical field, but knew little about local and national health-care systems. They attended conferences on the subject, read articles, watched videos and invited guest speakers, including Russo, to address the issue.

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