Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON– Changing national trends by employers and insurance companies are creating wider gaps that many working families find themselves slipping into. One local couple is hoping to see the community come together to help underemployed families who find healthcare outside their reach.
“It’s not what we’re hoping to do, it’s what we’re hoping Marshall County will rally behind– a community clinic,” said Judy Smith, a nurse practitioner. “It’s a clinic that would be funded by the community. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but for the working poor. The guidelines would be strict about that.”
The community clinic wouldn’t extend to individuals on Medicaid, Medicare, or other regulated “safety net” programs. Instead, it would be geared toward individuals working, but unable to make ends meet and still manage chronic or preventative healthcare needs.
Judy’s husband, Dr. Graham Smith, noted the gap between those on social aid and workers who simply can’t afford the cost of insurance.
“People that are destitute poor and those that are not working, most of them get Medicaid, or those that have been injured, there’s programs for them,” Graham said. “But there’s nothing for the people that are really trying, but not able to afford healthcare. As companies cut back or cut back on hours, there’s more and more people without benefits. The ones that really are struggling with their finances and being very careful with things may not want to drive to Paducah and use the high priced gasoline to get there when they can stay in the community.”
Graham said many times the conditions are treatable, but care is delayed due to the cost. Then it becomes a more severe condition, which results in lost work and even more time spent in treatment.
The Smiths are hoping members of the community will step up to help fill that need.
The clinic would be similar to those in Murray or Paducah’s St. Nicholas Clinic. Smith, along with her husband, previously volunteered at St. Nicholas, where patients only qualify if they are not eligible to receive any health benefits from state or federal government.
“It will primarily be for those that are working and fall right under the level of having any kind of health benefit from their provider,” Judy said. “Or they might work two or three jobs, but it doesn’t matter because none of them will provide healthcare benefits simply because the cost is so high.”
The lack of employer-provided insurance can be significant in communities where small businesses employ a significant percentage of the population, or in industries that typically employ only part-time or seasonal help. According to U.S. Census Bureau employment data, in 2010 nearly a quarter of Marshall County’s workforce worked in industries earning less than $2,400 per month. Many of those were part-time or seasonal help.
“The ones I’m familiar with are single moms, with maybe two or three kids and working two jobs at a fast food place,” Judy said. “And then the mom gets sick and she hasn’t got the extra money to go to a physician’s office or a walk-in clinic, because, even at the very lowest, that would entail $50 a visit, and she has to buy medication on top of that.”
Many times, faced with medical bills they can’t afford, those patients find their way to area hospitals and emergency rooms, who are obligated by law to triage and at least assess patient needs.
That decision may also be worse in the terms of long-term health. Emergency room and walk-in clinic staffs typically treat immediate needs, but encourage patients to follow-up with regular doctors for regular care. The lack of follow-up care means many chronic and manageable conditions go unchecked, creating more severe problems down the road such as heart disease and diabetes.
“In emergency rooms we’re seeing a lot of people showing up with advanced illness or complications of illnesses that, had they been managed, would put the person continuing in the workforce,” Graham said. “But they end up being looked after by the state and they’re no longer working and being productive members of society.”
Graham said he and Judy had discussed the idea of a community clinic a decade ago and received positive responses, but the effort never took off. He commended the community’s history of getting behind projects and hopes this one has the same support.
For that to become a reality, the Grahams say the first step is to get medical professionals on board.But the clinic would rely on more than just those with medical training. The Smiths say it will take people with a range of skills, from computers and building maintenance to making phone calls and assisting with paperwork.
Typically, non-medical staff qualify and process patients as they come in to help maximize the time of medical staff.
But the one thing all volunteers need is a shared sense of helping members in their community.
“A lot of us will say ‘my son works’ or ‘my daughter works,’ but what they’re forgetting is it could just as easily be their son or daughter who gets their hours cut,” Judy said. “I think it’s going to get continually worse as time goes by, as the job market suffers. It’s good to have a clinic in place in case something happens, where the community comes together. It’s something very much in need and it’s going to be something more in need as time goes by.
“I would like to see it here. When I had my clinic here on Poplar Street, it basically became a nonprofit clinic. I saw a lot of single moms. People who didn’t have any insurance came in and basically paid me what they could. It was very fulfilling for me to be able to help these ones who weren’t being able to be seen in a physician’s office.”
The Grahams say they have spoken to medical professionals willing to help the community organize the project and find leaders to get the work going.
“We want to bring it to the community that there is a need, but it’s not going to be the Graham and Judy clinic,” Graham said. “We’re not planning on being there to tell people how it has to be run. It will ultimately be up to a board of directors as to how they manage everything.”
Currently, the Grahams have been gauging interest from community and church leaders. They hope to hold a public forum in the near future to discuss the creation of a board of directors, which would oversee the clinic.
“It needs to be the young people,” Judy said. “I would like to see the next generation get in there and be actively involved. You are the ones coming into positions of being the elders of the community. The parents and the grandparents have given you this heritage and you’re going to have to struggle. But there’s growth in struggle and maturity in struggle. I think young people are more than able and more than capable of seeing this brought into effect.”
For more information, contact the Grahams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-0632.