A free clinic at Caffe Lena connects underinsured musicians with health care

When Jill Burnham, a registered nurse and half of the blues-singing duo Mark and Jill, saw a free health clinic at the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, it was the first time she’d seen the health and music worlds collide like this. When she volunteered for the clinic last May, Burnham found out that out-of-state musicians were driving to Memphis for the clinic. Artists’ need for affordable healthcare was everywhere, including in the metropolitan region.

So Burnham, along with Saratoga Hospital Health Center, Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Caffe Lena, organized Musicians Health and Wellness Day, a free clinic for uninsured and underinsured musicians. Sundays are from 11am to 2pm at Caffe Lena.

“At the end of the day, health insurance and health care are very expensive, and most of our health care is about jobs,” Burnham said.

Because musicians are freelancers, they are not tied to a company that provides coverage. That leaves artists to navigate the Marketplace, the online resource for health insurance created under the Affordable Care Act, which Burnham says can be confusing and often expensive. Free clinics like the one she hosts at Caffe Lena give artists access to basic but critical health care they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Musicians’ Health and Welfare Day

  • Where: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs
  • When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, October 23
  • For: Musicians based in the Capital Region and Southern Adirondack Region who are uninsured or underinsured
  • Register: Applications are welcome, but pre-registration is required Caffe Lena website is encouraged, especially for musicians interested in custom earplugs.

Originally, Burnham planned to offer only blood pressure screenings because he felt comfortable managing this solo. Still, he began to think about the liabilities—what if someone came in with dangerous blood pressure? — and addressed senior management at Saratoga Hospital, where he works. The hospital and its community health center became involved, soon Hudson Headwaters joined and the clinic expanded its reach.

In addition to blood pressure screenings, the clinic at Caffe Lena will provide nutritional counseling, HIV and hepatitis C screening, colorectal cancer screening kits, tai chi meditation, a limited number of personalized earplugs and health insurance navigators to help patients understand what is their coverage settings.

It was important to the organizers that the musicians have access to follow-up care after the clinic. Hudson Headwaters Health Network, for example, is bringing its HIV and hepatitis C screening van to the event. Through state funding, Hudson Headwaters is able to test people and provide comprehensive care and treatment to those who test positive, regardless of insurance status. Similarly, the colorectal cancer screening program is able to help people who test positive for cancer. And the Saratoga Hospital Community Health Network, which serves the uninsured and underinsured in Saratoga County, will be able to connect people with doctors for future health care.

The clinic will accept and welcome walk-ins, but registration is available on the Caffe Lena website (and, for those interested in custom-made earplugs, encouraged as limited quantities are available). If the clinic is successful, Burnham has a notebook full of ideas on how to expand the program.

“(Health insurance) is a problem across America,” she said. “I can do my little part in the world, but I can’t change the big picture.”

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