Free clinic at Caffe Lena connects underinsured musicians to health care

When Jill Burnham, registered nurse and half of the musical duo Mark and Jill Sing the Blues, saw a free health clinic at the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., it was the first time she had seen health care and the music world collide like that. When she volunteered to help at the clinic last May, Burnham realized out-of-state musicians were driving to Memphis for the clinic. Artists’ need for accessible health care was everywhere, including in the Capital Region.

So Burnham, along with Saratoga Hospital Community Health Center, Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Caffe Lena, organized Musicians’ Health and Wellness Day, a free clinic for uninsured and underinsured musicians. It is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday at Caffe Lena.

“At the end of the day, health insurance and health care is very expensive, and the majority of our health care is tied to jobs,” Burnham said. 

Because musicians work as freelancers, they aren’t tied to a company that provides coverage. This leaves artists to navigate the Marketplace, the online health insurance resource created under the Affordable Care Act, which Burnham said can be confusing and often costly. Free clinics like the one she’s organizing at Caffe Lena give artists access to basic yet critical health care they otherwise can’t afford.

Musicians’ Health and Wellness Day

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

Initially, Burnham planned to only offer blood pressure screenings because she felt comfortable managing that solo. Yet she started to think of the liabilities — what if someone comes in with a dangerous blood pressure? — and reached out to senior leadership at Saratoga Hospital where she works. The hospital and its Community Health Center were on board, soon Hudson Headwaters joined and the clinic expanded its scope.

In addition to blood pressure screenings, the clinic at Caffe Lena will provide dietitian consultations, HIV and hepatitis C screening, kits for colorectal cancer screening, Tai chi meditation, a limited supply of custom-fit earplugs and health insurance navigators helping patients understand their coverage options.

It was important to the organizers that the musicians had 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 wrap-around 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 Saratoga Hospital Community Health Network, which serves the uninsured and underinsured of Saratoga County, will be able to connect people to physicians for future health care.

The clinic will accept and anticipates walk-ups, but registration is available at Caffe Lena’s website (and, for those interested in the custom earplugs, encouraged because a limited supply is 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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