Uninsured local people needing medical care now have another option: the Access 4 All Clinic at the Three Streams Family Health Center (1710 Old Haywood Road in West Asheville), which opened Feb. 2.
Established with a grant from Mission Hospitals’ Community Benefits Program, the clinic will serve uninsured Buncombe County residents during nontraditional hours — late Tuesday evenings, Fridays and the first Saturday of every month. The clinic isn’t free, but Three Streams and the WNC/Buncombe Medical Society say the sliding-scale fees are being kept low.
“A lot of the uninsured can't afford to take off work nine to five; it's just impossible,” notes Program Director Geri Spangler of Three Streams, who’s one of the clinic's founders. “We wanted to extend our hours to late evening. We know many of the uninsured are using the ER as their doctor's office. We felt like if we could offer a minor urgent-care clinic that they could just walk into on these new hours, it would help free up some of the resources being used in the ER when the unisured could get care in a practice. People can walk in here: They don't need an appointment.”
Patients can either make appointments or be seen on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone wishing to use the clinic is encouraged to call ahead to find out about the financial requirements and what documents — including those proving income level — are needed. In May, the clinic hopes to expand its hours to be open every Saturday, says Spangler. “We're the opposite of most clinics: We want the uninsured.”
Patients may also be eligible to particpate in Project Access, a volunteer physician network run by the Medical Society that includes specialty care, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, physical and/or occupational therapy, radiology, labs, medications, durable medical equipment, complementary alternative medicine and medical interpreters. Those enrolled in Project Access also receive (mostly) free prescription drugs.
Project Access is available to low-income Buncombe County residents, usually ages 18 to 64, who have no medical insurance, don't qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and have a medical need. Patients must be referred by the Buncombe County Health Center, a community clinic or a private doctor. Potential beneficiaries are then screened by phone.
However, Project Access plans to place a part-time eligibility screener at the Access 4 All Clinic to streamline referrals for qualifying patients.
Meanwhile, the number of local uninsured is rising, and the need for services isgreater than ever.
“What we are seeing is new patients: We're getting 10 to 15 calls a day, and 80 percent are uninsured,” says Spangler. “The scariest trend we're seeing is people with insurance choosing to give it up. The reasons we're hearing is that premiums are too high and copays are too high. They're choosing their premiums over buying food for their families.”
The clinic, she reports, is still in need of doctors and other practitioners willing to volunteer their services.
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