Free medical clinic needs community's help

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By Toni Fowler of Galax

I am a well woman. I am a medically insured woman. I am one of the lucky ones.
In the recent past, I faced a medical crisis that resulted in my seeing six healthcare providers — nurse practitioners, doctors, ophthalmological specialists — in just 8 days’ time.
Because of my precious medical insurance card, each provider was willing to set aside some time for me — after ascertaining that the insurance was valid and the co-pay was paid.
Each visit ended with the handing over of prescription(s); each succeeding visit resulted in the previous prescriptions being discontinued and replaced with better and/or different meds.
With the seven healthcare visits to six providers, and with the multitude of medicines, I spent about $500 in co-pay fees.
Lucky me. I have the necessary medical insurance card. I finally got relief that I needed so that the medical crisis would begin to subside.
However, I also have had the privilege of volunteering at our local Free Clinic. I see, weekly, countless men and women who do not have the same good fortune.
They don’t have the insurance card, and they wouldn’t have the co-pay money anyway.
Because they have no private healthcare provider that follows their care, they have extremely limited access to care through the clinic. And that care is, in reality, available to them only if they have been seen at the clinic before and if they can tolerate waiting three to four weeks to be seen for an emergent medical need.
Free Clinic patients do not hurt less than I did just because they do not have medical insurance, but Free Clinic patients do not have the luxury of being able to request an appointment ASAP.
My illness untreated — I can’t bear to think how much worse this would have been if I had been a Free Clinic patient and had to wait weeks for each successive appointment and medication.
Those with emergent care needs literally cannot continue to wait for an opening at the Free Clinic, often because of life and death issues.
They have had to go to the emergency department, being scolded for being there, condescended to, and charged fees that they cannot begin to pay back. (I understand this situation is recently improving for some).
And when that happens enough times for any one of our patients, the emergency department cuts off any real care “until your bill is paid.”
An uninsured person with my recent diagnosis could realistically become suicidal because of relentless pain. Couple that with a non-responsive, unsympathetic healthcare institution, and their medical troubles grow geometrically.
My request to medical providers in this community is that you donate just four hours a month to the Free Clinic of the Twin Counties so that there would be more open time slots to see acute care patients.
The clinic is sincere in its mission to provide care as it can, but there are too few providers willing to share their expertise to reduce suffering of people who don’t have much power.
This clinic needs RNs, LPNs, EMTs, CFNPs, MDs, DOs. We need them in droves, so that Free Clinic-eligible people in the Twin Counties can have more adequate levels of healthcare services.
This area has a large number of medically trained people who could help. Perhaps they are not aware of this way of serving their community.
Please consider sharing some of your time and your skills. If even most of you would consider volunteering, the Free Clinic might have the luxury of thinking it had sufficient healthcare services to offer our community’s uninsured.
Take a busman’s holiday. Share some of your time at the Free Clinic. Call 236-0421 to offer your help. You will be glad that you did.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This guest editorial includes a statement that some indigent visitors to the local hospital emergency room may be subject to losing “any real care until your bill is paid.” However, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986 requires hospitals to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment, regardless of ability to pay, legal status or citizenship. The administration of Twin County Regional Hospital issued this statement in response to the guest editorial: “Treatment at Twin County Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department is never delayed or denied due to the patient’s ability to pay. Our patients will always receive emergent medical care. The health and well-being of our patients is our top priority.”