Free clinic volunteers help those abandoned by politicians and get no financial reward to earn Wings of Justice
Originally published on WingsofJustice.com on December 16, 2009
Volunteers at Free Clinics
There has been a lot of attention paid to free clinics, thanks to the initiative of Rich Stockwell and the rest at “Countdown” on MSNBC. But the real heroes of these events haven’t had their fair share of the spotlight.
You can talk about free clinics on a basic cable news show, and you can raise donations to rent out large halls for the clinics, but without the volunteers, all you have are hundreds of patients with no one to see them.
The spotlight on these particular free clinics — a minuscule microcosm of what happens all across the country in free clinics that no one talks about — illustrates the pent-up need for basic, decent health care in the United States.
For every health care personnel featured on these free clinics, there are countless others away from the cameras, working hard to fix the problems that generations of politicians have passed by with little regard for the people.
These people volunteer their time because they are needed. Badly. Desperately.
In all, about 4 million Americans are expected to visit the country’s 1,200 free health clinics this year. Nicole Lamoureux, executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics, says free clinics have seen an increase in patient load of 40%-50% in the last year.
The Kansas City clinic – the third in a series sponsored by MSNBC – drew over 2,200 patients in a two-day period.
MSNBC set up free clinics in New Orleans and Little Rock, AR designed to influence the vote of senators on the fence over health care reform. Kansas City, MO was also utilized since Missouri has a significantly solid free clinic network.
Considering that the Kansas City Free Clinic is one of the best, they still have to turn away 200 or more patients every week. Clearly, the need for free clinics is gigantic.
There were a lot of basic health care involved in the clinics in the three cities, but in the MSNBC-sponsored free clinics, these medical personnel were getting in people who were in the middle of heart attacks, or who had heart attacks and didn’t know.
While these people who graciously volunteer may get rewarded on a human and personal level, they receive nothing in financial compensation for their time.
“Most of them just will tell you that doing the work that they do is the pay that they need. And most of them have other jobs, and then they come and share their time to work at the clinic to take care of the patients that really need the care,” said Dr. Bridget McCandless, medical director at the free clinic in Jackson County (Independence), MO to MSNBC’s Ed Schultz.
The stress of working in a free clinic can’t compare to their regular visits with patients. If you have good health insurance, you are likely making a trip before something is seriously wrong. Patients at free clinics are usually there when something is far, far serious.
McCandless spoke of the frustration of being able to help, but there are limits in what they can do. But the volunteers do a lot, even if in some cases, doesn’t seem like a lot.
For example, in some medical cases, symptoms aren’t as obvious until the patient sees a medical professional. There were a few anecdotes from the free clinics featured on MSNBC about dangerously high fasting blood sugar readings, something that the patient can’t always recognize.
Putting these free clinics on display goes well beyond trying to influence politicians. This has brought into our living rooms the reality of a dilapidated health care system.
And though 83% of those attending free clinics are employed in some form, the health toll on the unemployed and the underemployed has been costly. And cruelly, there is a correlation between losing a job and losing access to health insurance.
Free clinics are tenable for those who are heavily in debt, ironically due to health insurance expenses, who struggle to go to a doctor because they can’t afford one.
As nice as the spotlight was for free clinics, the ongoing crisis that is the health care system won’t get more attention anytime soon for free clinics. So the day-in, day-out patchwork effort that free clinics provide needs more help than ever.
The horrible nature of people desperate for medical attention relying on free clinics is matched by the time and consideration spent by medical personnel who sacrifice a lot, but get to help those truly in need.
Volunteers at free clinics are doing incredible work, fighting to plug ever increasing holes in the health care system. For their valiant efforts, they deserve our support, respect, and this week’s Wings of Justice award.