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A decade of service to the poor
Year after year, The Miriam Hospital’s Dr. Miner volunteers at Providence's Rhode Island Free Clinic
Despite putting in a long day caring for patients, Martin Miner, MD, can't take off his stethoscope just yet. It's the one evening a month when he leaves his day job and volunteers his time at the Rhode Island Free Clinic to see patients like Hector Sepulveda, who he now greets in an examination room.
Speaking through a Spanish translator, the 59-year-old native of Medellin, Columbia, complains of recurring headaches and discusses his new blood pressure medication. He also brings up issues that led clinic staff to arrange an appointment for him with Dr. Miner, a primary care physician at The Miriam Hospital who specializes in men's health issues, including sexual function.
Dr. Miner listens, asks questions and genially pats Sepulveda on his rotund belly.
"This drives your testosterone down," he says with a smile. Turning to address the translator, he adds, "I would like him to lose some of that."
The clinic, small but professional-looking clinic, is housed in the top floor of a two-story building on Broad Street, right in the heart of a needy section of south Providence. Offering a variety of free care, it caters to a diverse clientele made up largely of immigrants who don't speak English. Without Dr. Miner and the other volunteer physicians, the clinic could not keep its doors open, says CEO Marie Ghazal, RN. And Dr. Miner, who has been coming to the clinic for going on 10 years now, is among the most giving and devoted, she says.
"We're very fortunate to have him. He's very well liked, very accepting, very caring," she says. "He's a loyal, longstanding committed volunteer."
Of the 140 internists and specialists, who volunteer anywhere from weekly to monthly, more than 30 are Lifespan professionals. And that's not counting the dozen or so Lifespan-affiliated medical residents who also visit the clinic. All this volunteering allows the clinic to book about 7,000 appointments a year, serving roughly 2,000 patients. While its annual budget is just $1 million, the clinic receives in excess of $5 million in donated services from physicians.
Lifespan, a clinic partner since 1999, also absorbs the cost of many diagnostic and laboratory services it provides for clinic patients.
When specialists like Dr. Miner volunteer, the clinic can offer even more diverse services to its patients. As an internist who co-directs the Men's Health Center at The Miriam, Dr. Miner emphasizes that men's sexual health issues shouldn't be seen in isolation but as a manifestation of overall health.
The two are intricately linked, he says, an idea he drives home when teaching primary care physicians and working with members of the American Urological Association.
The Men's Health Center
Founded in 2008, the nationally recognized center provides clinical and psychological care for male sexual dysfunction.
Its multidisciplinary approach to men's health seeks to treat symptoms and to identify such underlying causes of sexual dysfunction as heart disease, hormone deficiencies, prostate cancer treatments, and psychological issues.
The center is located at The Miriam Hospital and has a staff that includes an internist, a family practitioner, urologists, a psychologist and physical therapists.
Dr. Miner has long considered volunteering an important part of his life. He's been on missions to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, even visiting sugar cane fields to care for indigent laborers. As the Rhode Island Free Clinic began to undergo significant growth, Dr. Miner said he spoke with leaders at The Miriam, including medical director William Corwin, MD, about donating time as "a way to pay back, so to speak. I felt it was important given my position at The Miriam. I wanted to do something that involved minority men's health."
That led to his monthly visits, often seeing patients with complaints related to men's health. Many are immigrants.
"Most are very hard working," he says. "They just can't afford health care."
Sepulveda, speaking through the translator, works as an auto mechanic's assistant.
"Has he had any changes in stress or worries?" Dr. Miner asks, focusing initially on the complaints of headaches. "Has he been taking his blood pressure medications?" The doctor is pleased to hear that ibuprofen is helping manage the headaches and offers assurances that he thinks they'll likely go away once Sepulveda adjusts to his new blood pressure drugs.
"Today his weight is 230," Dr. Miner says. "Last time it was 223."
"He says he's going back to the gym," the interpreter responds.
Dr. Miner sees four to eight patients a night. He derives so much satisfaction from working at the clinic that he encourages other doctors to volunteer. "I always feel so much better after I do it," he says.