McPherson moved a step closer to having a health-care clinic that serves low-income families last week.
A committee associated with Circles of McPherson County, an anti-poverty group, has been working for two years to establish a clinic that would assist the uninsured or the medically underserved in McPherson County.
The committee, called the Big View Team, was given the mission after participants in the Circles program identified adequate and affordable health care as the largest barrier to lifting families out of the poverty in McPherson County.
The committee has met with leadership of other health care clinics that serve low-income families and visited a clinic in Wichita operated by Grace Med. With the help of the McPherson Healthcare Foundation, the committee applied for and received a grant from the McPherson County Community Foundation to hire a facilitator to conduct a community planning session for a new clinic.
The Big View Team invited 25 leaders from the McPherson County community, including health professionals, public officials and members of Circles of McPherson County, to a planning meeting on Nov. 6.
The McPherson Healthcare Foundation has had conversations with several area clinics about expanding services for the medically underserved through a satellite location in McPherson County.
During the community meeting, an executive committee was formed to explore partnering with one of these clinics to bring a satellite clinic to McPherson County.
The members of that committee include McPherson Mayor Tom Brown; Dr. Paul Ullom-Minnich of Partners in Family Care in Moundridge; Rebecca Lewis, Circles coach; Rob Monical, president of McPherson Hospital; Fern Hess, administrator of the McPherson County Health Department; and Chad Clark, executive director of the McPherson Healthcare Foundation.
The executive committee is supposed to report back to the larger community group on Dec. 18.
The community group has set a goal of opening the doors of a new clinic within the next 18 months.
Brown said he hoped the project would reach fruition much sooner than that.
Clark, who is the leader of the Big View Team, said he thought Circles and the team has been able to bring more attention to the need for affordable care in the community and create a better dialogue between medical staff and families in poverty.
"I think [a clinic] will put less strain on the hospital, add service and enhance employment of working poor," he said. "I think for our growing populations, this will establish a better quality of life for all."
Members of the community group agreed there was a need for more affordable care in the community.
Randy Easter, McPherson EMS director, said his department has seen an increase in patient refusals. Patients don't have the insurance and can't afford to access care in any other way, so they call 911 and receive health care services from first responders. Easter said these patients would receive better and less expensive care if they could be seen by a primary care physician in a clinic setting.
Page 2 of 2 - Monical said the charitable care at McPherson Hospitals has grown by $500,000 since 2008.
Kansas did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, Kansas has many residents who are earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level who still will be uninsured, Lewis said.
Families who do not have insurance use the emergency rooms because they know they can't be denied service there for inability to pay, she said. Many of the conditions poor families seek treatment for in ERs, such as gaining a prescription for an anti-biotic or an infection, could be covered in clinics if the families in poverty had access.
Accessing health care through emergency rooms keeps families locked in a cycle of poverty.
"The family gets a huge bill. They are only making $900 to $1,200 a month at a minimum wage job," Lewis said. "If they don't seek financial aid, they get their wages garnished 55 percent. Then they can't pay their rent or light bill. Their finances are already minimal. It is a huge engine that drives poverty."
Lewis, who is a graduate of the Circles program and works directly with low-income families, said many of the Circles families have difficulties in accessing primary care. Some physicians won't see patients who don't have insurance even if they offer to pay cash, she said.
Transportation also is a significant issue among families in poverty, Lewis said. Although clinics with sliding-fee scales exist in surrounding communities, low-income families don't have vehicles or the gas to get to the clinics. The nearest sliding-fee scale clinic is in Hutchinson, which is 25 miles away.
Because of years of problems accessing appropriate dental care, Lewis had significant dental work that needed to be performed. She has made 17 trips within the last year to a clinic with a sliding-fee scale in Salina. Every trip costs her $25 in gas, which she said has been a significant expense for a single mother on a limited income.
During a recent meeting when Circle participants were told a health care clinic for low-income families was coming closer to a reality, some of the participants were so happy they cried, Lewis said.
"I think this clinic will enrich the community and provide opportunities for families for wellness and health education," she said. "I think this will shine a spotlight on health for adults who have children and speaks to the current generation as well as sets us up for more success with the next generation."