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Recession Sends More Patients to Free and Reduced Cost Medical Clinics

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, Michele Skalicky reports on how clinics that serve the insured and underinsured in Southwest Missouri are doing in the recession.

The Kitchen Clinic in Springfield, the city’s ONLY free medical clinic, was overwhelmed before the recession. But now, even more people are seeking medical care there. Outgoing Kitchen Clinic Board President Brian Fogle says the recession has had a mixed impact on the clinic…

"It's truly the best of times and the worst of times for us and many non-profits. Our demand for services has reached an all-time high. We have a great professional staff at the Kitchen Clinic. They are there to help those who can't afford to go anywhere else, and they see it as much a mission as they do a profession. However, because of the increased demand for services, we've had to turn away people, and I know that's disappointing for all of us."

He says the Kitchen Clinic had to turn away more than 250 patients in October that there just wasn’t the capacity to see.Those who receive help from the Kitchen Clinic have no insurance and are not Medicaid or Medicare eligible. Fogle says, traditionally they’ve seen those who are unemployed or who are employed but can’t afford insurance…

"However, we have seen more people come lately that were laid off and could not afford to keep the COBRA benefits and found themselves without any safety net whatsoever."

The Kitchen Clinic operates on an annual budget of around 800,000 and relies heavily on volunteer hours. Fogle says they’ve been fortunate to obtain several grants. He says they don’t plan to stop offering free medical care and will do everything they can to avoid that…

"It's tough. Free clinics across the country have been closing because there really aren't any public funds that go into free clinics, and it's primarily charitable support that keeps them open, and what's enabled us to serve people all these years is primarily the community outreach and support."

He says they have a commitment from area hospitals to help them provide free care. It’s a win-win situation for hospitals, he says, since it helps keep people out of the emergency room.The Kitchen Clinic and other healthcare facilities in Springfield have been looking for about a year, according to Fogle, at how they can better serve the uninsured and underinsured patients in Southwest Missouri.He says discussions continue on how to serve them in a better, more effective and more efficient manner. He expects to have firmer plans in place to share with the public in the coming weeks.At Jordan Valley Community Health Center on W. Kearney in Springfield, demand for services is also up. John Mooney, the Center’s director of health and wellness, says they’ve seen an increase in patients in the last year…

"I would say there's definitely been an increase, especially in the last four or five or six months when the economic situation's really started to hit home."

Jordan Valley Community Health Center provides primary medical, dental and behavioral health care to anyone who requests it. The center’s niche population, however, is those on Medicaid or without insurance as well as the underinsured.Mooney says because of the increased demand for services and because the health center is a growing organization, they’ve made changes. Hours are being expanded to accommodate the increased demand…

"Instead of ending at 5 pm, by April 1 we'll be out to 10 pm Monday through Friday andthen we'll add a full day on Saturday as well. It adds another 38 hours, I think, that we're actually open, which provides access and that's simply due to the demand for our services."

Jordan Valley Community Health Center is moving into a larger facility this summer at the corner of Tampa and Benton which will add 30 exam rooms to the 20 that the center currently has. They’ll add 12 to 15 staff members with the expansion of the center’s hours.The medical side of Jordan Valley pulls from about five counties…a medical clinic was opened in Marshfield a little more than a year ago and a dental clinic is under construction there. The dental clinic sees people from 30 to 40 counties in Missouri...

"There's a lot more of an access issue on the dental side that people just have a hard time without insurance or if they have Medicaid."

Mooney says, despite the recession, he’s not worried about the future of Jordan Valley, which is a federally qualified health center and gets some funding from the federal government.He says they’ll continue to help fill the gap for people until they can get back on insurance. But he says, at the same time, they also want to provide a medical home for patients…

"It helps keep people out of the ER's, which are so overwhelmed, so if we're able to take care of those people with issues that are either non emergent or if they are just preventative things that we can help keep them out of there, that's really, I think, a huge help to the community."

This program and others in KSMU’s Sense of Community Series including a story on how area hospitals are faring in the recession, are on the web at ksmu.org. For KSMU and the SOC Series, I’m Michele Skalicky.