By Kathryn Korostoff
Southborough – Dr. Paul Hart, a Southborough resident for nine years, started a free medical clinic in Worcester 16 years ago. It has since had a remarkable 50,000 patient visits. Inspired by that success, he started a new Sudbury location to serve the Metrowest area five years ago. His dedication to providing healthcare to those in need is not restrained by local geographic boundaries; he has also travelled to Ethiopia, Haiti, Belarus, Moldova, the Ukraine and more, providing patient care, working at clinics in remote communities and training local physicians.
Given these accomplishments, the Massachusetts Medical Society has selected Hart as the 2011 Senior Physician Volunteer Award recipient. The award is given in recognition of his exemplary dedication to volunteerism and his lifelong sharing of medical expertise.
Hart described some of his international work.
“When we go to the Amazon, we go to small villages and people come to receive care,” he said. “I also teach the local physicians and their assistants on updated information about various problems that are relevant to their local communities.”
In many rural areas, there is a combination of acute and chronic illnesses that need to be served.
“It is not unusual to find someone who has a child with heart disease and they weren's previously aware they had it,” he said.
With the proper diagnosis, the child can then receive the care needed.
“I see a lot of chronic illnesses that have not been diagnosed. Then there are the more acute illnesses like parasites and infectious disease that can be specific to a local area and which need to be treated.
“You realize how fortunate we are to have access to great care when you travel to some of these other countries,” he said.
In Massachusetts, while many people have access to healthcare, there are many who do not. There are many people here who need medical care. Hart shared the story of a local patient whose eyesight started to deteriorate not long after losing his job and his healthcare. It turned out that he had glaucoma, but because it wasn's treated soon enough, he became permanently disabled. If he had received timelier healthcare, it could have been prevented, according to Hart.
Even with the current Massachusetts healthcare system, Hart's local clinics are busy. This is partly due to the fact that some people get stuck between loss of healthcare and the time when a new plan starts. Also, Hart explained that a lot of people fall though the cracks, including undocumented immigrants and those who simply can's afford (or qualify for) plans offered through the state's Commonwealth Care program.
“Compared to other states, Massachusetts is much better,” he said, “but there are still a lot of people who need medical care.”
Hart may be one of the most active “retired” physicians ever. This year, he plans to go back to both Haiti and Ethiopia. Soon after, he will start working on a new program between the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the government of South Africa, part of a broader program started by then-Gov. William Weld. Hart will work with local physicians in South Africa's Eastern Cape province to help improve the delivery of chronic care in rural areas.