Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit in on a health care panel discussion organized by STEPMC.
STEPMC is a nonprofit organization that provides support to families in poverty as they try to better their circumstances.
STEP has a Big View committee, which I recently joined as a volunteer, that attempts to look at overreaching community issues that tend to keep families in poverty.
During more than a year, the STEPMC families, called Circle leaders, designated lack of affordable health care as one of their greatest barriers to success.
The individuals who sat on this panel included, Rob Monical, CEO at McPherson Hospital; Matt Schrader, therapist at Prairie View; Shelia Gorman MD in McPherson; Marla Ullom-Minnich MD in Moundridge; and Ken Cotton, dentist.
One of the repeated themes of the discussion was a desire to have an urgent care clinic in McPherson.
Area communities, such as Newton and Lindsborg, both have opened clinics with extended evening and weekend hours.
Urgent care clinics generally offer similar services to doctor’s offices. The extended hours mean residents with minor ailments, such as ear infections, can avoid costly trips to the emergency room, which can cost in hundreds of dollars.
The members of the panel said there has been no discussion to this point about creating an urgent care clinic in McPherson. Panel members said it likely would need to be a cooperative effort between the hospital and the local physicians.
The urgent care model has been successful in metropolitan areas for some time. It is a waste of our community health care dollars to rely solely on the emergency room for minor illnesses and injuries that come up during nonbusiness hours.
Such a clinic would not only be a benefit to McPherson’s poor, but all community residents.
The audience asked several questions about the possibility of bringing specialists into the community, specifically a pediatrician and an OB/GYN.
Monical and Gorman explained bringing a specialist into a community is more difficult than residents might imagine. Recruiting a single specialist to a rural community is difficult enough, but most specialty practices need a least two physicians so that they can alternate nights on call.
This means the community must have the patient load to support two physicians, not just one.
The lack of specialists in the community means many community members must travel outside of the community to receive treatment. For some, this may be a minor inconvenience, but for families in poverty, this can be a serious problem.
Many families in poverty have no or unreliable transportation or have few funds for gasoline, which makes travel outside the community to see a physician difficult.
Monical said the hospital has worked with physicians to establish traveling clinics in McPherson and will continue to evaluate the possibility of bringing specialists to the community.
Page 2 of 2 - If you don’t have insurance, you may not be able to access a physician at all. Circle leaders said they had been refused service because of problems with billing and lack of insurance.
Emergency rooms can’t legally refuse service to individuals, and Gorman said she was disturbed to find physicians were refusing patients who did not have insurance.
Patients who do not have insurance already are billed at the highest rate in the health care system. Insurance companies negotiate lower rates for those of us who have insurance, but if someone doesn’t pay the full price, there can’t be a negotiated lower price.
Unfortunately, that ends up being the poor.
McPherson is a prosperous community, and the fact there are members of the community who are denied access to health care based on their socio-economic status is unconscionable.
Chad Clark, director of the McPherson Healthcare Foundation, discussed the establishment of a community health care fund that could help those who do not have insurance with health care costs. The hospital also provides thousands in charitable funds to those in need every year.
However, for families who rely on minimum wage or low-wage jobs for income, health insurance remains out of reach.
Health care will continue to be an issue for these families until some greater global solution to make health insurance more accessible is found.
Cristina Janney is the managing editor of The McPherson Sentinel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.