Volunteerism crucial for clinics that serve as safety net for uninsured, underinsured
- on August 12, 2011
Twenty-one-year-old Kelly Pohlman is tired of being in pain. She’s been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and is taking medication, but it’s not working.
Often, the pain is unbearable. She loses sleep.
Pohlman is grateful for Health Care Access clinic because her job doesn’t offer health insurance. She has been paying for medications by tapping into an inheritance from her late father.
“I’m here to see if we can figure something else out,” she said.
On Friday morning, she saw Dr. Karen Evans, who volunteers a full day at the clinic once a month. Evans went over her medical history and medications. She also checked her strength and heart beat among other things. She decided to run some tests and try some new medications.
Evans is among 20 doctors who volunteer to provide medical care on-site at Health Care Access, a clinic that serves low-income, uninsured Douglas County residents.
“I think it’s good to give back to the community. For me, it’s an important thing to do,” she said.
Evans said she tends to do a lot of skin procedures like removing moles, warts and lesions. She also sees patients with headaches and back pain.
“It’s typical family practice stuff — lots of different ailments,” she said.
Evans said the clinic’s patients tend to be young adults and middle-aged adults; she rarely sees children or elderly patients. They also tend to be sicker than what she typically sees at Mt. Oread Family Practice across town.
“They wait until they really can’t stand things anymore,” she said.
Dr. Marc Scarbrough, a hospitalist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, volunteers a half day every other Tuesday. He also sees patients who wait until it’s an emergency to seek care.
“In our country, insurance is so tied to employment, and I think it’s wrong,” he said.
At the clinic, he often sees people who have lost their job and their health insurance and then get sick.
“That just kills me because they wait until the last minute and they are really sick and then they come to us and they have to be hospitalized and get complicated, extensive medical care that if they would have come in a month earlier and received treatment then they would have prevented catastrophe,” he said.
Scarbrough said he sees a lot of patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, musculoskeletal pain and psychosocial depression.
He thinks the clinic plays a vital role in providing a medical home to those in need. If it wasn’t there, he estimates the patients would end up in the hospital emergency room across the street.
“It’s much more expensive to provide care in the emergency room for the facility, for the expertise, for all of the things,” he said. “I think I’ve probably saved several ER visits.”
So far this year, the average ER charge at LMH is $2,031.
Gov. Sam Brownback proclaimed this week as “Primary Care Safety Net Clinic Week” to raise awareness about the critical role that these clinics play in providing care for the uninsured and underinsured.
In 2010, about 40 Kansas clinics provided care for more than 215,000 people.
In Douglas County, there are three safety clinics. Here are the number of patients they provided care for in 2010:
• Heartland Community Health Center, 1 Riverfront Plaza, Suite 100, served 1,104 patients through 3,305 appointments.
• Douglas County Dental Clinic, 316 Maine, served 2,807 patients through 6,057 appointments.
• Health Care Access, 330 Maine, served 1,200 patients through 3,213 appointments.
Nikki King, executive director of Health Care Access, said that care wouldn’t be possible without the hundreds of health care workers who volunteer their time on and off site.
Nearly every doctor in town provides volunteer work whether they see one patient a week or one a month. Collectively, they provided $3.5 million worth of donated care in 2010 to Health Care Access.
“It’s tremendous,” she said. “It’s just very commendable that Douglas County medical providers see this as an important way to participate.”