Volunteerism crucial for clinics that serve as safety net for uninsured, underinsured

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. Karen Evans, of Mt. Oread Family Practice, examines Lawrence resident Kelly Pohlman, 21, during an appointment Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, at Health Care Access, 330 Maine. Evans volunteers at the clinic, which serves low-income, uninsured Douglas County residents.

Dr. Karen Evans, of Mt. Oread Family Practice, examines Lawrence resident Kelly Pohlman, 21, during an appointment Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, at Health Care Access, 330 Maine. Evans volunteers at the clinic, which serves low-income, uninsured Douglas County residents. by Nick Krug

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.

Dr. Scott Solcher, left, and Dr. Marc Scarbrough are volunteers at Health Care Access, a clinic that provides medical care for low-income, uninsured Douglas County residents. They attended a volunteer appreciation event  Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, at the clinic, 330 Maine, that was held in conjunction with "Primary Care Safety Net Clinic Week." They are among about 20 doctors who provide care at the clinic.

Dr. Scott Solcher, left, and Dr. Marc Scarbrough are volunteers at Health Care Access, a clinic that provides medical care for low-income, uninsured Douglas County residents. They attended a volunteer appreciation event Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, at the clinic, 330 Maine, that was held in conjunction with "Primary Care Safety Net Clinic Week." They are among about 20 doctors who provide care at the clinic. by Richard Gwin

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.”

Tagged: underinsured, Health Care Access, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Douglas County Dental Clinic, Heartland Community Health Cener, safety net clinics, uninsured

Comments

Marilyn Hull 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks, Karen, Mark, and all of the volunteers for giving your time. It means so much to so many.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 4 months ago

"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."

What a hollow proclamation.

Erin Graham 3 years, 4 months ago

sigh... just like all of the other causes so near and dear to his "heart"... In any case, it allowed an excuse for this article to be written. Which, in turn, hopefully will bring this to light to someone new.

Charlie Bryan 3 years, 4 months ago

Along with the generous contributions from volunteers, donors and board members, let's also thank the staff who provide these services in our community and the executive leadership of Jon Stewart, Nikki King and Julie Branstrom.

Erin Graham 3 years, 4 months ago

Amazing work to everyone involved in providing these valuable services to the county! I sincerely hope that you're aware how appreciated your efforts are.

It astonishes me how we live in a country of [arguable] 'equal opportunity,' yet availability and accessibility of such a basic need as healthcare is so far from that ideal... I hope more areas use what we have in Lawrence/Douglas County as a model for their own communities!

Erika Dvorske 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for the committment of so many people to provide critical care to people who need it. We can be so much healthier when we participate in these important preventative activities that are supported by great people and organizations including primary care doctors, the clincs mentioned here, and of course Lawrence Memorial Hospital. I generally don't post cliches, but we need to remind ourselves that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

hcainc 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for covering so well Karrey!

Lana Christie-Hayes 3 years, 4 months ago

I am so grateful for the wonderful care provided for me by HCA on and off over the years. I'm very glad that they got their new building and have been able to start helping more people on a more regular basis. What a valuable asset to the Douglas County community HCA is!! Thanks to all those who make it possible!!

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