As many people struggle to maintain both financial and medical help, places like Grace Clinic can be a life saver.
While introducing clinic Director Betty Taylor during a recent meeting of the Yadkin Valley Rotary Club, Dr. Steve Erlandson, Grace Clinic co-founder and medical director, explained the insurance crisis met by the clinic.
“The trouble with our health insurance program is that there are so many people who don’t meet the paradigm,” said Erlandson. “They fall through the crack.”
This includes individuals who are not in the U.S. legally as well as many skilled workers.
“Lots of small employers or people who are paid by the hour are falling through the cracks much more than they did before,” said Taylor, who began her service at Grace Clinic as a volunteer doing eligibility interviews.
Taylor explained why so many of those interviews were with skilled workers.
“If I’m a roofing contractor and I have six employees and they work through roofing season, they get overtime, they’re well paid, they make good money,” said Taylor, “then I find out I’ve got to pay health insurance if they work more 30 hours. What do I do? As an employer I don’t make enough money to pay for that health insurance. So what do I do? I hire more people and I cut their hours.
“So we’re seeing more patients who used to work 40 hours a week and who had special skills, roofing, welding and those kinds of things, now they’re working 28 at those jobs and they’re working at a convenience store for minimum wage to make up the difference. Working three jobs and can no longer afford health insurance.”
The business owners themselves also may be using services provided by Grace Clinic due to the cost of insurance premiums.
One such patient was a man Taylor called “Joe.”
“A few months ago he came in for eligibility. He was gaunt. He looked sick. He was worried about himself. He had lost 40 pounds in about four months without explanation. He was self-employed, had been a hard worker. As he started feeling bad he could work less, he got worse and could work less and finally couldn’t work at all and could no longer afford that premium for his personal health insurance.
“He was undiagnosed for hypertension, he was undiagnosed for diabetes, he has liver disease and probably we’re looking at some cancers,” said Taylor.
“These are the kinds of patients we see, and as a community, we need to be concerned. We need to be concerned as humans, but we need to be concerned that he’s not driving down the road in this state untreated.
“I saw him Saturday at the dental clinic we had at First Baptist Church and he is so improved,” said Taylor, revealing further care offered by Grace Clinic.
“We’re so much more than just providing medical care,” said Taylor.
“We provide behavioral health care, but we’re involved with our partner agencies. We provide care for [The ARK] as well as My Father’s House, and in turn they’re a resource for us when our patients come through the door. When a patient comes into our clinic and they’re hungry, we feed them. We find food. It’s a bigger picture than just treating what they’re there for.
“The state of healthcare is changing. We’re looking at social permanence of health. We’re looking at the whole person,” said Taylor, who was pleased to share that the clinic has reached a benchmark in service.
“For the first time we are slightly over 500 patients and those are real numbers,” said Taylor. “We’ve been at almost 500 patients for years and now we are over 500 patients. We have a volunteer [for eligibility,] they see four new patients in one day.”
Still that is not enough for the board and staff at Grace Clinic.
“Several years ago we started talking about the number of patients it was that we are serving and when I first joined the clinic I was very, very impressed,” said Board Chair Steve Newman, “but as time went on, I got to thinking about it.
“The number is not that we have 500 patients. That’s not my number. My number is how many people are out there that we need to serve. That’s the number that I think we need to concentrate on.”
Grace Clinic hopes to increase that number by encouraging people to share with others and make use of the clinic as soon as they have a need instead of waiting.
“Talk about what we do,” Taylor asked of the Rotarians. “There’s people in your congregations that need us, that don’t know about us like the patient that I call Joe. I wish that we could have had him six months earlier. We need to get people sooner in our doors.”
The clinic serves anyone between the ages of 18 and 64 who has no medical insurance, lives in the service area and has an income at or below 200 percent of Federal Poverty Level. Grace Clinic serves zip codes 27011, 27017, 27018, 27020, 27055, 28621, 28635, 28642, 28669, 28670, 28676, 28683, and 28685. The Federal Poverty Level for 2018 can be found at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/01/18/2018-00814/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines.
Tayler presented statistics from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighting how Grace Clinic needs to be able to do more to help the community.
“The percentage of uninsured adults in Surry, Yadkin and Wilkes counties [was determined to be] an average of 18 percent for 2017. The state average is 15 percent so that’s not good,” said Taylor.
“They also rank the overall health outcomes and that’s based equally on the length of life and quality of life. Out of the 100 North Carolina counties, Surry ranks at 50, Yadkin at 65 and Wilkes at 81. That’s the population we serve. That number needs to be 20 to 30. To me, that’s not a Grace Clinic issue, that’s an issue for all of us as individuals, as well I think our churches, as our community groups, our civic organizations.”
To improve these statistics, Taylor would like to be able to have the clinic opened an additional day each week.
The clinic is open Monday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday from 1 to 7:30 p.m., and is primarily staffed by volunteers.
Medical care is still expensive and Taylor said the clinic needed $100,000 in order to be open the additional day, however, the savings to the community could be significant.
When gathering information from Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital for a grant, Taylor discovered the average hospital stay was 2.3 days at an average cost of about $16,000.
“I can treat a diabetic a long time for that kind of money,” said Taylor. “We don’t eliminate every ER visit. We don’t eliminate every hospital stay, but the ones that we can prevent by offering health care at Grace Clinic can be significant.
“Many [Rotary members] are contributors to the clinic and I appreciate you for that and the churches and businesses that you’re affiliated with, but it doesn’t stop,” said Taylor.
It is because of donations and grants, such as $1,000 from the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund, that the clinic continues to exist. In order to be eligible, recipients must serve a broad range of residents within the community, meet an important need, and significantly impact quality of life.
A full list of eligibility standards for the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund can be found at https://www.weyerhaeuser.com/sustainability/communities/community-investment/giving-fund/.
This grant is a small amount compared to the need.
“I need $100,000. That’s not an easy task. It’s not that we want to be big, we just want to meet the need that’s out there,” Taylor said.
“We need to be big,” said Erlandson.
To help Grace Clinic grow, go to graceclinicnc.org or call 336-835-1467.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.