Indigent health care rising in Augusta

Manny Wilkins, 4, gets his height checked by certified medical assistant Laura Schnetzler as his mother, Krissy Wilkins, and sister Abby, 2, look on at Christ Community Health Services.

Krissy Wilkins sees it in her Olde Town neighborhood, in fellow patients she refers to nearby Christ Community Health Services, where her family gets care: young people without health insurance who “hope they don’t get sick,” she said.

Despite a new 12-exam-room Olde Town Community Health Center and a 10-room clinic on D’Antignac Street near University Hospital, there is always more
demand than the clinics can handle, said Dr. Robert Campbell, co-founder and medical director.

“Even though we have grown in our capacity to handle that need, there continues to be more need than we can meet at this point,” he said.

Indigent and charity care patients at two of Augusta’s largest providers bear that out. Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics and its physicians have provided $40.1 million for the first six months of 2011, compared with $32.1 million for the same period in 2010.

University is seeing more indigent and charity care for the first six months – $14.7 million in costs compared with $10.2 million for the same period last year.

“I believe it is the impact of this extended period of time where we’ve been seeing unemployment at 10 percent or more in our area,” University CEO Jim Davis said. “And I think people are just running out of benefits they used to have with their employers. It’s been a long time.”

They see it at Christ Community clinics, too, Campbell said.

“We consistently see patients who are looking for work and can’t get it, that are underemployed with jobs that don’t offer health insurance, that have recently lost their jobs and lost their health insurance,” he said.

Georgia Medicaid rules make getting on the program difficult for those who don’t have a disability or certain conditions, Campbell said.

To qualify for Low-Income Medicaid, a single mother with one child cannot earn more than $4,272 a year, according to Medicaid eligibility rules.

When there is no Medicaid coverage or insurance, the burden falls on the provider, Davis said.

“We become the safety net when there isn’t one,” he said.

University spends about $50,000 a month supporting Christ Community clinics in hopes patients will get better care, particularly for chronic conditions, and find a “medical home” that can help keep them out of the hospital or the Emergency Room, Davis said.

“Keep them healthier and keep our costs down,” he said.

At the Olde Town clinic, Wilkins waited with her 2-year-old daughter, Abby, and 4-year-old son, Manny. She likes that the clinic is in her community, where she volunteers to work with young people and children through the group Hope for Augusta.

Even though she has insurance, she uses the clinic because she likes the people and her family gets good care.

“We like going to the same facility that we would send neighborhood children to as well,” Wilkins said.

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