Eye on WNY: Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic Is Dedicated to Free Community Healthcare

Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic staff.

Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic.

Published September 27, 2023


Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic is several things — a community resource dedicated to providing free healthcare to uninsured and underinsured Western New Yorkers; an organization made up of students from the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, physicians, and community health workers; and a unique partnership between UB and the greater community.

“Lighthouse is able to provide comprehensive care, anything from lab work to connecting people to external services to even getting them to the clinic,” says Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions. “It is a student-run clinic, which means students do everything. They are the schedulers, they provide care, and they make the decisions on how we run things. It is a unique model to teach leadership and provide services to the community.”

The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic was established in 2001 by a group of UB medical students from the University at Buffalo. It offers general healthcare, including work physicals, as well as OB/GYN and dermatology care (by appointment only). All care is supervised by licensed physicians.

Recently the clinic has expanded its services for the underserved patients of Buffalo as a result of a 2023 UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Community Partnership Development Seed Grant.

Kruger is co-investigator of the grant that has helped Lighthouse expand and enhance its services by providing dental screenings and follow up to promote long-term dental care. The grant, which also brings dental services to Seneca-Babcock Community Association, is funded until the end of 2023. The seed grant is a collaboration between the UB School of Dental Medicine, UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, and their community partners at Seneca-Babcock. Also serving on the grant are Joseph E. Gambacorta, DDS, School of Dental Medicine (academic lead); Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, LMSW, School of Dental Medicine (academic lead); Daniel Kruger, PhD, School of Public Health and Health Professions; and Brian Pilarski, Seneca-Babcock Community Association (community lead). Learn more about the seed grant here.

“Our mission is to serve the uninsured and underinsured in Buffalo for their health needs, and part of overall health is dental health,” Kruger says. “Dental health is often forgotten and is really a luxury, sadly, in our society. The seed grant has enabled us to screen people for dental health and connect them to services.”

Kruger and the Lighthouse team stress the importance of dental care to clinic patients. Not only does it impact how and what people eat, but it impacts overall health.

“It is not just about your smile,” Kruger explains. “It is about systemic health. Also, there is the self-confidence and quality-of-life aspect. What is the first thing someone notices about you? Your smile and or your lack of smile because you are embarrassed."

Kruger notes that dental pain can also lead to loss of revenue and work. “We are going to keep supporting upward financial mobility by providing this medical care so that people can get a job and be able to take care of their families,” Kruger says. She adds that having a dentist on site makes for a personalized and comfortable experience. “It changes people's perspective,” Kruger says.

For the student participants, volunteering at Lighthouse is an impactful experience, one that strengthens their bonds with members of the community. Grace Kim is a graduate student in the UB School of Dental Medicine and has volunteered at Lighthouse since 2018 as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

“This clinic has had a huge impact on my career trajectory and perspectives on patient-centered care, and Lighthouse has greatly improved my dental school experience as a whole,” Kim explains. “Volunteering here allows me to take a step back, give perspective and see patients in a model that is more than just their teeth. The skills I have learned from Lighthouse, not just from patients but from other students, have shaped what kind of dentist I would like to be: a dentist who is well-versed and rounded in all areas of patient-centered care.”

The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic is located in the Community Health Center of Buffalo at 34 Benwood Avenue and open on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome but appointments are preferred; call 716-222-0805 to schedule an appointment and for more information visit lighthousefreemedicalclinic.com.