By Bonnie Rosenstock
Since 1995, when Beatrice Tosti and Julio Pena opened Il Bagatto on E. Second St. east of Avenue A one of the first new restaurants in that lower part of Alphabet City Dr. David Ores has always helped out their workers.
“If someone was sick at the restaurant, I would pay a little, and he wouldn’t charge so much,” Tosti said of Ores in a phone interview. “Or somebody would cut their hand in the middle of the night, he would come to fix them and then come later to check on them. He is an extremely excellent human being and compassionate person,” she declared.
In May, Dr. Dave, as he is known to his patients on the Lower East Side, formalized his care for workers in the restaurant industry by founding the Restaurant Workers’ Health Care Cooperative. The cooperative will provide routine, low-cost, healthcare directly to uninsured restaurant workers in the 10002 and 10009 zip codes in collaboration with restaurant owners.
“This program will keep them out of the emergency room and cause much less stress on the city’s system,” he said. “They will miss fewer days of work which is vital for the working poor and they won’t get the customers sick by coughing on the food all day. Also, they won’t get a hospital bill for $3,000, go into debt, and all they had was a cold.”
Restaurant owners will kick in a monthly fee based on the number of “tops,” that is, seating capacity. Every time a worker uses Ores’s services, which are free, Ores will take money out of the communal fund account. He and a board of directors, made up of participating restaurateurs and other interested persons, will review what the workers need and what they can and can’t offer and adjust fees accordingly. Typical offerings will include flu shots, tuberculosis tests and Department of Health tests, in addition to basic healthcare.
The healthcare cooperative is “an informal handshake” between the doctor and the participating restaurants, currently numbering five, including Il Bagatto, at 192 E. Second St.; WD50, 50 Clinton St.; Stanton Street Social, 99 Stanton St.; Seymour Burton Restaurant, 511 E. Fifth St.; and EU, 235 E. Fourth St.
“This is a wonderful concept,” said Tosti. “He is what neighborhood doctors used to be a long time ago, people who gave care, not just wanted money. He is not pushing the latest medicine that the pharmaceutical industry wants him to push. He really wants you to be healthy.”
Ores, 50, is bald, with dark piercing eyes, a solid build he was on his college’s judo team and has a clipped, no-nonsense way of talking. He’s festooned with tattoos, including a wild array on his arms, plus a giant “M.D.” inked on his back, and rides a motorcycle. He lives on Avenue B between Houston and Second Sts., just minutes away from his office at 15 Clinton St. near E. Houston St. He rents both spaces from the nonprofit Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association. He acknowledges that without affordable housing, he couldn’t live and work here.
“Because of them, I can do what I do,” he said of L.E.S.P.M.H.A. “They are central to me being able to provide low-cost healthcare to the working poor and uninsured in the area, including the existence of the R.W.H.C.C.”
Most of Ores’s patients are “tweeners,” he explained, people who don’t have Medicaid but can’t afford insurance. He doesn’t believe in or take medical insurance, which he views as “a complete scam, and the concept is corrupt.” His fee is $350 for the first visit and $250 for follow-ups. However, if patients can’t afford that, they can pay whatever they can.
“I’m not under any obligation to collect the rest,” he stated. “Sixty dollars is worth hundreds of insurance dollars. I would have to hire someone to do the insurance thing and pay them eighty grand.
“I try to help them and worry about their finances later,” he continued. “It should be secondary. If you can figure out what’s wrong with them in five minutes, what’s the big deal? Why not tell them? If they don’t have the money, who cares,” he shrugged.
In the fall, his office is moving to 189 E. Second St. between Avenues A and B, into a newly purchased L.E.S.P.M.H.A. building, which he will name “The L.E.S.P.M.H.A. Medical Office” in recognition of their support. Ores will have a whole floor and three examination rooms, instead of his current one. He hopes to get a mental health practitioner or a pediatrician to work with him.
His Web site, http://www.davidjoresmd.org/rwhcc.php, describes R.W.H.C.C.’s mission. While at the moment he is the sole provider of services to restaurant workers, he hopes not only that other doctors will participate but also that other cities across the nation will copy the idea.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he acknowledged. “It’s a great social experiment and one local response to the absence of a national healthcare system.”
Dr. David J. Ores, 15 Clinton St. Office phone: 212-353-3020. Cell phone: 917-723-4206. Web site: www.LowerEastSideMedical.com. Office hours: 10 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., five days a week, occasional Saturdays.