Bridging The Health Care Gap In Sunset Park

Volunteer clinician Mylinh Ha examines John Son Go’s eyes at Academy of Medical and Public Health Services in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Maria Chiu

Once a month, a door opens on Third Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. It is easy to pass by without taking notice, but for the people who do walk in, they find services that are hard to come by.

The open door leads to Academy of Medical and Public Health Services, a non-profit organization that provides free health screenings for underserved communities and a safe-haven for those who have fallen through the cracks in our healthcare system.

“We are the first door to healthcare in the U.S.,” says Hewett Chiu, President and Co-founder of AMPHS.

Whatever your income level or immigration status is — AMPHS does not care. Everyone is welcomed to take advantage of the free medical services, such as a physical exam, Hepatitis C and HIV screenings, a flu shot, an oral consultation, and an eye exam.

Jeannette Hernandez, 40, is a community member who first caught wind of AMPHS from a flyer she saw at a summer festival in Sunset Park. As a single mother with two children, she does not have health insurance at the moment because it is too expensive. Even after subsidies from the Affordable Care Act, Hernandez would pay $230 a month for a plan under the New York State of Health.

Hernandez came in to get a flu shot and a physical exam. This time, she convinced her boyfriend, Alfonso Casco, to come along.

Casco, who had not been to the doctor’s office in 15 years, said “At the beginning, I was nervous.” But after his flu shot, Casco was ready for the next checkup station. “Where should we go next?”

Duane Reade pharmacist Gerardo Romero administers a flu shot to Yan Ying Wei at AMPHS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Maria Chiu

Duane Reade pharmacist Gerardo Romero administers a flu shot to Yan Ying Wei. Photo: Maria Chiu

Another member of the community, Yan Ying Wei, learned about AMPHS through her social worker. If these services were not offered, she said she would not go to the doctor at all.

Hernandez, Casco, and Wei are 3 of the 14 people who made appointments with the center this month. Located in Sunset Park, a predominantly immigrant community, AMPHS distributes flyers in Spanish and Chinese. They rely heavily on word of mouth to reach a community whose predominant language is not English.

AMPHS also relies on its volunteers. Flu shots are administered by a Duane Reade pharmacist; Hepatitis C and HIV screenings are provided by SUNY medical students; oral consultations by Harvard and NYU Dentistry students; and translation in Spanish and Mandarin by ArchCare TimeBank.

At the heart of why AMPHS began is through personal stories of loss. Founders Hewett Chiu and Mon Yuck Yu both experienced what it was like to lose a parent to cancer at a young age.

“Our family was not a recipient of healthcare. My dad got cancer and it was too late,” said Yu, whose dad was a carpenter and a first-generation immigrant. “I want to make sure whatever I did, it would be in light of public health and access to the underserved community.”

Even with such noble ambitions, Yu says it is difficult to gain trust within the immigrant population. Undocumented immigrants are wary to seek social services for fear that any records would lead to deportation. Others are suspicious that the services will cost money, but president and co-founder Chiu does not want community members to forego health care.

“We’re not trying to get your business,” says Chiu. “We see health care as a human rights issue. That’s always been the perspective we take.”

Updated on Oct. 6, 2015 – An earlier version of this story ‎suggested AMPHS distributed flyers in Arabic, but at the time of writing, only English, Spanish, and Chinese language flyers are offered.