Celebrating the ECHO Free Clinic

On November 30, 2023, Einstein alumni, students, volunteers, and supporters gathered to celebrate the Einstein Community Health Outreach Free Clinic, or ECHO, at its annual gala. Founded in 1999 in partnership with the Institute for Family Health (the Institute), ECHO was the first student-run, physician-supervised free clinic in New York City and has provided services free of charge to thousands of people for nearly 25 years at the Institute’s Walton Family Health Center. The proceeds from the event will allow ECHO to continue to care for people from the Bronx and beyond, and to provide supplemental resources to patients.

From left: ECHO Chairs Breckin Horton, Cory Ransom, Aastha Vasa, and Anne Chu
From left: ECHO Chairs Breckin Horton, Cory Ransom, Aastha Vasa, and Anne Chu

“From the very beginning, the goal of ECHO was to serve members of our community who can’t afford insurance and or who are not eligible for insurance because of their immigration status,” said Arvind Dev, communications officer on the ECHO board and a member of the class of 2026. “With the support we received from our annual gala, we’ve been able to expand our services and reach more patients.”

A Commitment to Health Equity

Over the years, more than 3,500 Einstein students have contributed their time and skills to the ECHO Clinic. Each Saturday, the students and their supervising physicians and nurse practitioners from the Institute take care of 30 to 45 adults who might otherwise be unable to access healthcare. The clinic offers students insights into all aspects of a medical practice, from scheduling appointments and organizing patient records to ordering instruments and other resources and knowing how to speak to, listen to, and take care of patients.

“There can be as many as 40 Einstein students on hand on any given Saturday, along with two to three physicians to supervise them,” noted Amarilys Cortijo, M.D., medical director for the clinic and adjunct clinical assistant professor of family and social medicine at Einstein. “It is critical that future doctors learn how to care for those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. The enthusiasm, passion, and compassion the students bring to their roles is inspiring and energizing as well.”

Serving the Bronx Community

To mark the ongoing growth and success of ECHO, an annual gala was established in 2014. “Around the time when we were planning the first gala, we wanted to offer our ECHO patients long-acting, reversible contraception, such as IUDs, but we were unable to afford the associated costs,” recalled Lauren Roth, M.D., class of 2016 and assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein, who helped spearhead the event at that time. “We decided that instead of just celebrating ECHO’s 15th anniversary, we would raise money for women’s health, specifically to fund IUDs. This launched the annual ECHO gala we know today.”

In recent years, ECHO leaders have initiated funding for other priorities, including civil surgeons, who can perform immigration medical exams that involve a variety of lab tests, vaccinations, and paperwork. The funding also helps cover the cost of specialty referral visits for patients, purchasing supplies for health fairs, and supporting ECHO’s school tutoring/soccer program and its pre-health summer program.

Drs. Amarilys Cortijo and Neil Calman from the Institute of Family Health
Drs. Amarilys Cortijo and Neil Calman from the Institute of Family Health

Dr. Roth, who is also the inaugural leader of Einstein’s new longitudinal service learning course, noted, “Having the opportunity to serve the most vulnerable, uninsured, and under-resourced patients in the Bronx is an incredibly humbling experience and also among the most impactful that I’ve carried with me through residency training and now as a practicing pediatrician in the Bronx. It was also one of my motivators when developing the new service learning course at Einstein, to ensure students have opportunities to reflect on these experiences and to foster sustainable partnerships with community organizations in the Bronx.”

Dr. Roth added, “The gala allows us to share the clinic’s successes with alumni, staff, faculty, and students, celebrate and appreciate our partners, and envision what more can be possible as we strive to provide equitable access to quality care.”

‘Health Equity is Social Justice’

At this year’s event, Yaron Tomer, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean at Einstein and the chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine, delivered the keynote address to the more than 400 guests. He noted that Einstein was founded on the principles of social justice and that Einstein students carry that mission forward: “Health equity is social justice. And your commitment to it, through your work at the ECHO Clinic, has improved the lives of countless medically underserved and vulnerable individuals from all over the world.”

Dean Yaron Tomer (second from left) with ECHO board members Olivia Howell, Madeline Knauer, and Arvind Dev
Dean Yaron Tomer (second from left) with ECHO board members Olivia Howell, Madeline Knauer, and Arvind Dev

Dr. Tomer also shared his recent experience visiting ECHO: “I was amazed and humbled by what I witnessed. I saw dedicated, compassionate Einstein students working hard to make a difference in the lives of some of the most marginalized members of our community. I have not seen anything like it during my entire career and I am so proud of you!”

During the event, Maria Santos, M.D., accepted the ECHO Gala Honoree Award on behalf of the family medicine clerkship team. And two pre-health students – Yougeeto Singh and Mary Lou de Jesus – received awards for their work at the clinic. Additional speakers included ECHO board members Madeline Knauer and Olivia Howell, Dr. Cortijo, and Neil Calman, M.D., president and CEO at the Institute for Family Health.

An anonymous donor underwrote this year’s gala, which means all funds raised will go directly to the Clinic. “This generous gift represents the deep commitment of the community to the ECHO Clinic,” noted Arvind. “We are deeply appreciative of this remarkable and generous support.”

To make a donation to ECHO, please visit this page.