Monday, December 7, 2009

Giant free clinic at Bartle Hall: Band-Aid for a broken system

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge Dr. Oz
  • Dr. Oz

The massive free health clinic movement inspired by MSNBC's fuming Keith Olbermann, TV doc Mehmet Oz and the unconscionable fact of 47 million uninsured Americans comes to Kansas City this week.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Bartle Hall becomes the fourth site of a giant event put on by the  National Association of Free Clinics. The organization's first such event, on September 26 in Houston, drew 1,700 patients; more than a

thousand people sought medical care in New Orleans on November 14 and

in Little Rock on November 21. Those were one-day clinics; Kansas City's

will be two days, December 9 and 10.

"We've seen people who had not gotten care in five to 10 years get care, and hopefully they will be healthier as a result of that," says Sheri Wood, executive director of the Kansas City Free Health Clinic and president of the NAFC. "Some of the people we saw had

pretty extensive problems. In Little Rock, in one hour, we sent five people to

an emergency room -- it had been really calm most of the day, and then it was just

bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. They really needed care and had not gotten it."

Which is great. God bless our country's free clinics. Big thanks to Oz, for underwriting the Houston clinic, and to Olbermann, who devoted his August 3 Countdown to a "Special Comment" that ended with a plea for viewers to give money to the NAFC. Wood says her organization wasn't expecting that, but it immediately raised more than $1.5 million.

But while free clinics might get help for a few thousand people, they do little to solve the bigger problem. 

click to enlarge Sheri Wood
  • Sheri Wood

What happens when volunteer doctors at one of these clinics sends a patient to the nearest emergency room?

"They fall

into the system," Wood says. Hospital workers will help a patient apply

for Medicaid, or, she says, "depending on the hospital, they'll have

to work out a payment process. But

at least they got the care they needed."

Even though sending uninsured patients into a broken system isn't an overall solution, Wood says the media coverage has raised vital awareness.

The National Association of Free Clinics initially partnered with Oz -- who had established himself as "America's Doctor" on the Oprah Winfrey Show before spinning off his own The Dr. Oz Show in September -- for the daylong clinic in Houston. After that, Wood says, Oz ended up on The Late Show with David Letterman and Larry King Live

before Olbermann jumped on board. Olbermann "did a political twist

to it," Wood says, even though the NAFC had made it clear that the organization's

efforts weren't political. In any event, it worked.

"Many people who have seen the media coverage have made comments

to me about how they didn't realize how extensive the problem was," Wood says. "And

that these people who are uninsured look 'just like us.'"

Yeah, but what about the need for real health-care reform? Why do organizations such as hers have to put on big one-off clinics just to get some people the medical care they need? Why can't this country just do that for our fellow Americans every day?

Wood laughs.

And keeps laughing. And laughs at the same time as she says "Isn't it sad?"

"Hopefully our system will change," she says. "But right now, with everything in Washington, even if it happens it's years away. And people need care now."

So if you're uninsured, call and make an appointment: 877-249-5030 -- it's toll free. The clinic will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Besides medical care, this clinic offers mental health, vision care and social services.

Organizers also need help from medical volunteers such as doctors

of osteopathy and podiatric medicine, nurse practitioners, physician's

assistants, RNs, licensed vocational nurses, EMTs and medical

administrators. And they need volunteers who have no medical training

but could help with record-keeping, logistical support, patient intake

and translation, and making sure patients schedule follow-up appointments at area clinics. Medical and non-medical volunteers should register here.

And even if you're nowhere near Bartle Hall on Wednesday and Thursday -- if you're just a regular Kansas Citian who doesn't, at the moment, have to worry about health insurance -- at least give a nod in that direction.

Because all of us are affected by what's going on there. As Wood points out, "If someone doesn't have

health insurance and they hit the emergency department, it's an expensive way

to provide care and that cost is spread to everyone."

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