Louisiana, like much of the United States, has a serious problem of uninsured or underinsured citizens. Over 20% of Louisianans have no health insurance at all, and about 25% benefit from Medicaid. For the latter, the problem is more related to the paucity of Medicaid providers. Having a Medicaid card does not necessarily equate to having access to health care, but it is better than having no insurance at all.
Since unmet medical needs have been an on-going problem throughout Louisiana and the nation, a network of institutions has been spawned to address the segment of the population that makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to purchase health insurance. Since the cost of insurance mirrors that of medical care, the steady increase in costs, particularly in the United States, has priced many Americans out of the insurance market.
To address this large and growing number of citizens, Dr. C.D. Lowrey, then Medical Director of Rapides Regional Medical Center, formulated the project of a “free” clinic for the working poor. Incorporated on February 15, 1999, the Working People’s Free Clinic opened its doors and began seeing patients. Linda Holinga was hired as the first Executive Director and continues in that position today. In 2005, the Caring People’s Free Pharmacy was incorporated with the Free Clinic into a new entity, “Community HealthWorx.”
Patients who cannot afford health insurance and meet the financial eligibility of 200% of the federal poverty level and who do not qualify for Medicaid or other insurance, can be seen in the clinic at no charge. Every Tuesday afternoon and evening, volunteer physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses work with other non-medical staff (both volunteer and paid) to process and treat patients. Medications are provided through the pharmacy, which works with volunteers to do the voluminous paperwork associated with pharmaceutical firms’ patient assistance programs. Those medications not available through donations or patient assistance plans are purchased with operating funds. Prescriptions are also provided on a “one time fill” basis to persons with valid prescriptions, who are encouraged see if they meet eligibility for more long term services.
At least 1,000 active patients use Community HealthWorx as their medical home. Over 3,000 have been served in that capacity over the years. Some will eventually find jobs with associated health insurance or others will become eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. While waiting, however, Community HealthWorx helps bridge the gap. In November, 2011, in collaboration with area dentists and the local dental society, a dental clinic began which sees patients on Thursday nights. Although it is an “extraction only” dental clinic, it helps keep patients from the revolving door of emergency services.
Agreements with Rapides Regional Medical Center, Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital help provide laboratory and/or x-ray services. Other groups provide occasional services, including pathology, biopsies and some specific radiological procedures. Community HealthWorx collaborates with LSU-HSC-Huey P. Long and LSU-Shreveport for referral services.
Despite these intense collaborations, the unmet medical need is steadily increasing. Although medical-legal protection is offered to volunteering physicians and other professional through special legislation, it is still difficult to recruit adequate providers. Of the over 300 local physicians in the Alexandria-Pineville area, only a handful of dedicated souls give consistently of their time and talents. They, like all the other dental and non-medical volunteers, deserve the community’s thanks and admiration. If you cannot give of your time, Community HealthWorx appreciates your donations. Charity should begin at home, and our medically needy are no exception. Please call (318) 767-9979 for more information.