Meeting the Needs of the Uninsured in Rochester

By Ronni Ehlers, Sara Roback and Christine Birnie

Despite government efforts to provide health care insurance to all, 8.8 percent of people nationwide are still uninsured, according to Census data published in January. Rochester, and Monroe County as a whole, are no exception. Government estimates in 2017 showed that Monroe County had almost 37,000 uninsured people under the age of 65, with over half of those individuals (19,000) living in the city of Rochester.

St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center provides comprehensive physical and mental health services to the underserved in Rochester. Located at 417 South Ave., in the South Wedge of the city of Rochester, the center is in a prime location to help community members who are at the highest risk of being underinsured.

The center’s integrated and comprehensive care model provides the ability to serve a wide variety of patients who range from underinsured, uninsured or uninsurable. To meet the needs of this population, the center has grown to include a vast array of services.

Patients have access to specialties such as primary care, dentistry, massage therapy, chiropractic services, acupuncture, ophthalmology, mental health and counseling services, among others. This allows the center to be a truly integrated and comprehensive healthcare center.

As pharmacy students, we came to the center for a six-week clinical rotation prepared to use our clinical pharmacy skills and knowledge to serve a local population in need. We were quickly integrated into the center’s multicultural, interdisciplinary team. The center, which is composed of paid staff and more than 250 volunteers from both medical and non-medical backgrounds, serves more than 3,000 patients and performs more than 22,000 visits each year at a cost of only $10 per visit.

As pharmacy volunteers, we have engaged in many levels of patient care including counseling patients on medications, reviewing patient medical history and creating patient specific care plans with the medical providers. We have been able to use our knowledge of pharmacy to impact the lives of the patients at the center while developing our own professional skills.

In one interaction, we were able to apply our patient care skills to improve a patient’s quality of life. We spoke with a patient who is frequently treated at the center for his uncontrolled asthma. Due to financial constraints, the patient was using a long-term asthma control inhaler only when he was experiencing symptoms. We were able to help the patient understand the importance of using this type of medication every day in order to better control his asthma. We also supplied him with more of this maintenance inhaler to help alleviate some of the cost burden. Recognizing both the socioeconomic barriers and individual therapeutic needs of this patient, we were able to provide him the access to care that he required.

St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center truly meets the needs of patients in the Rochester region. Providing holistic, comprehensive care, the center provides patient care for a population who would be left with limited access to health care if were not for the center. Our experiences at the center have taught us to be more sensitive to the socioeconomic needs and barriers to care that patients experience. This has emphasized the importance of practicing holistic health care. As young professionals, our experiences at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center have impacted the way we will practice pharmacy in the future.

If you are interested in helping to meet the needs of the uninsured in the Rochester region, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center is always looking for volunteers. Both medical or non-medical volunteers are welcome.

The center also needs donations of physical items that are used on a day-to-day basis. A complete list of the current needs is listed on the center’s website at:

For more information, please visit, call 585-325-5260 or send an email to Volunteer Coordinator Mary Jo Albert at

Ronni Ehlers and Sara Roback are both final-year pharmacy students at Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St John Fisher College, who have participated in the service learning clinical rotation at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center. Christine Birnie, registered pharmacist (RP.h.), PhD is the dean of the Wegmans School of Pharmacy and served as the preceptor for the service learning rotation.