Sick and uninsured: Flagler Free Clinic serves 10,000 patients

 

Sick and uninsured: Flagler Free Clinic serves 10,000 patients

 

Date: November 3, 2012
by: Megan Hoye | Staff Writer

 
 

 

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When Faith Coleman found out she had kidney cancer, she was terrified. For her, the news carried an added weight.

She had no health insurance.

“It was horrific,” Coleman said. “My youngest child was 9 years old and I thought, ‘I’m going to die and leave this girl behind.’ I was scared to death.”

Because she was uninsured, no hospital would admit her without upfront payment. In the end, Coleman mortgaged her house to pay for a surgery that put her into remission. She walked into the hospital carrying a $35,000 cashier’s check.

That was in 2003.

Last fall, she learned she had cancer again, this time in her stomach.

“Of course, I still didn’t have insurance, because now I’m the cancer pariah,” Coleman said. “Insurance companies won’t even look at me.”

This time, Coleman qualified for Medicaid, because she’s a nurse practitioner. The program paid for a surgery that removed three-quarters of her stomach and for chemotherapy. Once again, Coleman went into remission.

On Tuesday, she learned that she has cancer again. This time, it’s in her liver and spleen. She’s still uninsured.

It can happen to anyone

When Coleman was first diagnosed with cancer, she’d just begun her career as a nurse practitioner. Starting out, an insurance plan was too big a cost to shoulder, so she opted out, she said.

Now, she can’t get a policy — or at least not a realistic one. Her latest offer would have cost $360 a month, and carried a $15,000 deductible. It wouldn’t cover any cancer treatments for 10 years.

“Of course I didn’t take it,” Coleman said. “There wouldn’t be a point. A month later, I started coughing up blood.”

Undergoing cancer treatments uninsured is what led her to co-found the Flagler Free Clinic with Dr. John Canakaris, a Bunnell-based physician. The clinic brings no-cost health care to those without insurance.

After she triumphed over her first round of cancer, she wondered what uninsured people without homes they could mortgage to cover hospital costs did when they got sick.

“I thought, ‘I guess they just die,’” Coleman said.

The Flagler Free Clinic provides refuge for people in those situations. It opened in 2005 with eight patients and eight volunteers.

Today, it has well over 100 volunteers and hosts four clinics monthly: The first and third Saturday of the month starting at 8 a.m., and the first and third Thursday of the month starting at 5 p.m.

Thursday clinics take 10 patients — more if enough volunteer doctors are available — and Saturday clinics take 60. Lines form as early as 4 a.m. on Saturdays, the uninsured of the county flocking to the sole place they can get help.

More are turned away than are helped. The clinic sees as many people as it can, but, as a privately funded institution, its resources are sparce.

But for most who come to the clinic, this is their only hope, so they wait. They wait even if they know their place in line is too high to grant them time with a doctor. They wait until they’re told to leave, and even then, some of them stay.

Thursday, a man holding a card labeled “17” for his place in line approached reception and pled. He lives five miles east of here, he said. He’s been waiting all day. He can’t come back. He has a urinary issue; he can’t sleep at night. He’s holding a bicycle helmet in his hands.

Georgia McFarland-Seabolt, volunteer coordinator for the Thursday clinics, sighs. She’s been volunteering at the clinic for about three years now, but turning patients away hasn’t gotten any easier. She says he can wait and see if a physician becomes available while the clinic is open, but she can’t promise anything.

Moments later, another doctor showed up to volunteer. The clinic never knows exactly how many physicians it’ll have available Thursday nights, because most of them come straight from work, and can get tied up at their own practices.

“Good, another doctor,” McFarland-Seabolt said. “We might be okay after all.”

A rising problem

The people sitting in the waiting room of the Flagler Free Clinic are part of a growing population.

Patient turnout since the 2008 recession has easily tripled, Coleman said. Unemployment remains high  — it was 11.9% in September — and an estimated 23.3% of Flagler residents are without health insurance, according to Small Area Health Insurance Estimates derived from 2010 Census data.

Florida’s rate of uninsured is the second-highest in the country, with an estimated 25.3% of its residents lacking health insurance, according to the SAHIE report. Only Texas had a higher estimated uninsured rate at 26.3%.

And the top two reasons the people go without insurance are the cost of a plan and a lost job or change in employment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These two reasons account for about 80% of uninsured people.

That’s why, for Robert and Theresa Dent and the thousands of other uninsured Flagler County residents, the Flagler Free Clinic is invaluable.

“The clinic is a blessing,” Robert Dent said. “If they weren’t here, a lot of us wouldn’t be, either.”

Robert Dent has had five heart attacks since 2007. He hasn’t had health insurance for any of them. The first, he had while he and his wife lived in Pennsylvania.

Although Robert Dent couldn’t pay, his surgeon decided to operate anyway. Shortly after, the Dents moved to Florida and discovered the free clinic, which treats both of them. Robert Dent can no longer undergo surgery, so the Flagler Free Clinic found a specialist to work with him for alternative treatments — for free.

“Faith, she’s an angel in herself,” Robert Dent said. “She comes in and works where most people would give up.”

Giving back

After navigating the health care system sans insurance, Coleman couldn’t see herself not working to help others like herself.

“In a way, I’m grateful for the nine years I haven’t had health insurance,” she said. “I can relate to our patients because I’m just like them. I know what it feels like to not know you’ll be able to pay for the care you need, and I know what it feels like to ask someone to do something at a reduced rate. I know how humbling that is.”

Coleman said often, it’s hard for an uninsured person to get decent health care even when they’re paying for a visit to a physician. If doctors know a patient doesn’t have insurance, they might not do anything beyond a basic checkup, just because they know the patient wouldn’t be able to pay for anything else.

As for her own cancer, Coleman qualifies for patient assistance program through the manufacturer of the drug she’ll be using for chemotherapy, which qualifies her for free medication. Town Center Imaging supplied the original PET scan that detected the cancer.

“To me, the sad part is because I don’t have insurance, there are some options out there, like liver chemotherapy ablation, that I’m probably not going to be able to do,” Coleman said. “I shudder to think what that would cost.”

But she tries not to dwell on her own circumstances too much. Her situation led to the free clinic, which is more important than feeling sorry about things she can’t change, she said.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought we would get this far,” she said, her voice hitched with emotion. “It just tells you how much need there is.”

 

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Currently 4 Responses

  • 1.
  • Many Dr's do charity work w/ in their own practices, I have heard that some Dr's donate their services to 10-20% of their patients. Dr. Ben Carson mentioned that was standard practice for many of Dr's & surgeons he has known though out his career. Unfortunately, +30 million people w still be uninsured under Obamacare. And the very people that we heard needed the help the most, those w preexisting conditions didn't fare so well. The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program depleted their funds and the program was frozen this past spring. The administration said the program spent about $2.4 billion on claims and nearly $180 million on administrative costs, as of Dec. 31, 2012. . Congress allocated $5 billion to the plan. They aren't too good at accounting in DC. Ever see a program come in under budget?
    Perhaps that is why greedy insurance companies couldn't afford to insure those who were already sick. With Gov cost to administrate the program it can't get better. Too big. Add that cost to the price of our new 10-30 million new citizens we are going to accept into the system, avg age 36 low to zero$ wage earners, (which means they take out more tax dollars than what they pay in) more services will be needed. They will also hit our SS and Medicaid/Medicare system hard right when boomers are scheduled to 'reap what they have sown' into the lock box. doesn't fare to well for our kids. Just a FYI, new CBO numbers out yesterday said that the Gang of Eight bill only curbs about 25% of illegal migration. Because, just like the previous immigration reforms where we were lied to and border security was promised, it won't happen. Their reason? Never enough money for that. And they won't enforce any deportation rules/benefit denial clauses that are tied to border security enforcement. Too cruel. Anyway, my Mom who is dead now, told me that when Medicaid and Medicare came out, every working man and woman knew that it would drive costs up for everyone. You are paying a middle man. If you don't pay for it out of your own bank account, chances are you don't ask or care about prices or necessity. It's 'easy'. Crazy times we live in. But I think its better to wake up in the middle of a nightmare rather than going all the way to the end where we reach our demise. Perhaps we will wake up and stop following failed economic/gov/social policies of countries that are bankrupt. The very same type of world views our founders fled from. Obey the king or else. Don't think outside the box (they were imprisoned and tortured for daring to say the Bible said something different than what the King said..and he controlled the church doctrine..kind of like today) . We didn't become the greatest nation on the planet that way.
  •  
  • Becky Covington
    Wed 19th Jun 2013
    at 11:09am
  • 2.
  • James I'm glad to hear that you have volunteered your time to help others but I'm also grateful you don't work in community health. Do you only choose to help people who meet a certain set of standards, and who decides them? You (or I) don't know anything about the woman pictured other than she has no insurance, has a health issue and needs help. Coming in to this clinic may be the first step on a path for her to improve her health, possibly including quitting smoking. But possibly not. What should the clinic do? Turn her away? If we only offer services and help to those who we deem "deserve" it then I fear for the world that would create. This is part of what makes this clinic- and community health as a discipline- so beautiful. It's humane, compassionate and non-judgmental. Unlike the culture at large.
  •  
  • kay dee
    Thu 8th Nov 2012
    at 12:59pm
  • 3.
  • Dear Megan..I would like to talk to you about starting a fund raiser for Faith coleman..please call me at: 386 585 4977. or email me..
    Thank you,
    Anna (Devivo) Chandler
  •  
  • Anna DeVivo
    Mon 5th Nov 2012
    at 8:02pm
  • 4.
  • I am a resident and businessman in Palm Coast. I am uninsurable (health) because of a construction accident 28 years ago. I was reading the front page article on Free Clinics, which I am all for and have volunteered with helping veterans and with handicaped accesibilty, Especially with people that want to help themselves and not take off the system. But low and behold right in front of me there was a patient sitting, waiting and smoking. What is wrong with idiots like this? Who does she think she is taking up someone's space that really needs help. By her smoking shows me she does not need this service. I speak for my self and I hope others that are tired of funding people like this person, on the front page that contrubutes to their own problems instead of Helping themselves. James Pursley Palm Coast
  •  
  • James Pursley
    Mon 5th Nov 2012
    at 2:45pm
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