What we do
Open clinic for people without health insurance
Our designated drop-in center
The low-threshold drop-in center is largely financed by a sizable joint donation from eleven Rotary Clubs in four countries (global grant). On 1 April 2017 the center moved into larger premises at Teltower Damm 8a, 14169 Berlin (still very close to the Zehlendorf “S-Bhf” commuter train station). People with no or only limited access to the state health-care system are given medical treatment and advice. In addition to refugees, the drop-in center takes care of people without health insurance and those without residential status at the drop-in center which caters for several local districts.
From 2016 until the beginning of 2022, the outpatient clinic was operated in cooperation with Ärzte der Welt e.V.. Since 2022, Medizin Hilft has operated the project in cooperation with milaa gGmbH, a subsidiary of the Evangelischer Diakonieverein.
Why does the medical center exist
Currently, there are various groups of people in Berlin without or with limited access only to the regular health-care system.
In 2015, our voluntary medical teams increasingly came into contact with refugees in emergency and communal accommodation without access to health care. In the first 15 months after arriving in Germany, refugees have a restricted right to health-care services, for instance patients suffering acute illness or severe pain are treated. But as the services were so stretched, it was not even possible to provide the limited scope of medical help refugees are entitled to during their first few months in Germany. Even if access to health care for the approx. 79,000 refugees currently living in Berlin has improved over the past few months, there are still large gaps.
There are many cases of hardship that have not been adequately taken care of; for example patients with seriously chronic sickness following war and torture injuries, that need special treatment and resources, and physically disabled patients, as well as those in need of care.
On the whole, the number of people living in Germany without official papers is expected to rise. As these people are afraid to visit the doctor’s for the well-founded fear of being expelled from the country, they are reliant on anonymous, free of charge services.
Immigrants from EU-countries also often do not have access to the regular German health-care system. EU citizens who are not in employment subject to social security contributions barely stand the chance of obtaining health insurance. Coverage from their country of origin is often not accepted. It is also known for a long time that EU immigrants without health insurance are increasingly being excluded from local services.
It goes without saying that we also treat Germans who are not insured in the health system. This occurs, for example, when people are self-employed and, for various reasons, are unable to continue paying their fees.
Open clinic – our services
The clinics are held by teams of volunteers consisting of doctors, nursing staff, medical students and interpreters. In addition to regular general clinics for pediatrics and general medicine, vaccination consultations and psychiatric and dermatological clinics by appointment, we plan to offer additional clinics for children, gynecological care and pregnancy advisory services in the future.
Our second focal area is offering social advisory services. The advisory consultations mainly center on issues such as health insurance membership, applications for medical services, accommodation or social services. We also provide information on ancillary or complementary services. Empowering our patients (advice on self-help) is at the core of our social advisory services, i.e. enabling them to manage their day-to-day lives themselves. Our advice should encourage them to come up with their own solutions and show them ways to exit crises.
Our overarching goal in treating and advising patients is, as far as possible, to open up unlimited access to the regular health-care system for them. Furthermore, we aim to offer additional support through a wide network of cooperation partners, that specialize in legal and social matters. Our intention is to help people achieve a high degree of physical and mental health, often in the face of difficult living conditions and situations.
While providing medical and social services, we collect anonymous data in order to document gaps in provision, and to work towards ensuring that the state sets up the prerequisites for medical care for everyone. Our advocacy work plays a pivotal role in this.
Medizin Hilft Flüchtlingen (Medicine helps refugees)
Our work in emergency accommodation in Berlin
Refugees living in emergency accommodation, do meanwhile have a legal right to most health services, however there are still major linguistic and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome before they can access them. Some services are not included in the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act and require elaborate applications for each individual case. Processing them often takes months or years, and rejections are not uncommon.
Alongside the medical health care of refugees, which also includes vaccinations and vaccination advisory services, a large share of the work of Medizin hilft Flüchtlingen is integrating those affected into the medical health system. Teams of voluntary doctors, helpers and interpreters are available for this purpose, i.e. to help patients navigate into generalist or specialist health-care provision by means of Medizin Hilft e.V.’s extensive network. We offer support for negotiations on individual cases, and if urgent action is required, we can provide a monetary advance.
Medizin Hilft e.V. aims to flag up gaps in provision by gathering data anonymously. Our work involves lobbying so that the state puts in place the structural prerequisites to ensure medical health care for everyone.
As part of our advocacy work, Medizin Hilft e.V. is one of the signatories of an open letter to the regional chair of the governing coalition parties regarding health-care provision for people without medical insurance.
Open letter to the regional chair of the governing coalition parties
Medical care for homelesse people
Unfortunately, in Berlin, there is an increasingly large number of homeless people without health insurance. We thus support them at “Tee- und Wärmestuben Neukölln” (drop-in café) at the Diakoniewerk Simeon. We offer regular clinics in the Tee- und Wärmestube Neukölln held by teams of volunteers consisting of doctors and nursing staff. Additionally, we financed a well-stocked first-aid cupboard of medical equipment there and also contributed to renovating the women’s bathroom area.
Even before the state took responsibility for initial medical examinations and vaccinations, our initiative conducted various vaccination campaigns along with public health offices in emergency accommodation in Berlin. This was one of our key goals, especially at the peak of the mump’s epidemic in 2015. Despite the fact that in 2015 the mumps were rampant in Berlin, and our voluntary vaccination programs were welcomed by numerous state institutions and public health offices, we were given neither the vaccines, nor confirmation that vaccine costs would be reimbursed by the responsible authority (LAGeSO). We therefore had to issue an advance for the vaccines from donations. A solution was not found until 2016, when the public health office Steglitz-Zehlendorf received extraordinary funding for vaccinations. Our volunteer teams and colleagues from the public health offices then jointly carried out vaccinations in emergency accommodation.
Information campaign on the German health system
Medizin Hilft has held information events for refugees in accommodation in Berlin since December 2016. The events serve to inform people about what we offer and the structure of the German health-care system. The aim of the project is to meet people where they are and pass on the knowledge they need, so that they can navigate and integrate themselves into the German health-care system. The event involves distributing information in various languages and dispensing vaccination advice by qualified specialists, and has already been held at 14 centers across Berlin reaching a total of around 4,900 people.
Structural help for other initiatives, hospitals and doctors’ practices
We offer information materials and documents in many languages as free downloads. They are also beneficial to other programs for learning about contents and how to build up structures that are already well established in our projects.
In addition to this, we provided help to approx. 20 emergency accommodation centers in urgent need with material donations in the form of standardized doctor’s equipment boxes and financing urgently needed medicines, particularly in 2015 and at the start of 2016. At the time, we also organized doctors and nursing staff to volunteer in numerous accommodation centers.
We also provide free downloadable general information to representatives of the regular health-care system such as hospitals and doctors’ practices. This encompasses details on health service entitlements, invoicing, other legal framework conditions, German and foreign language information about the health-care system and a leaflet on how to take prescription medicines in various languages.