NASHVILLE - A local Christian clinic funded entirely by private sources says its target population - the working uninsured - is large and growing larger in Nashville and across the state.
A year after opening, the Faith Family Medical Clinic sees an average of 28 patients a day, and the prospects for gaining more patients are excellent.
In Davidson County the number of uninsured, most of whom are working, was "roughly 52,000 in 2001 and more now" because of roll-tightening by TennCare administrators, Metro Health official Elliott Garrett said.
Statewide the total is more than 350,000, according to University of Tennessee research figures.
"The cause of the majority of bankruptcies - about half - is now medical debt," said Dr. Tom Henderson, Faith Family's medical chief. "It used to be a fourth."
Too many people don't know that affordable medical help is available, Henderson said.
At his clinic people are billed according to their ability to pay. For most the fee is $5. For a few it's as much as $20 or $25, Henderson said. Bills for specific services are similarly low, with an X-ray going for $5. Lab tests are done for the clinic at Centennial Medical Center for $5 per patient, rather than per test, he said.
Recently, Henderson saw a patient whom he described as typifying the kind the clinic was founded to help. A 63-year-old divorced woman trying to get by for two years until she can qualify for Medicare came in with a swollen lower leg that Henderson worried might have been due to a blood clot.
He sent her to a neighboring facility for a relatively low-cost ultrasound that would disclose whether, in fact, there was a blood clot, and he told the woman to return to the clinic immediately if the test proved positive.
"For her to go out and buy insurance would be prohibitive," Henderson said. "She's working two jobs to make ends meet, and you know what their strategy is. They work all these people 30-35 hours a week so they don't have to give them benefits. And she developed this, which if it's a (blood clot), could be life-threatening."
Another patient, Gerald Estes, 56, of Greenbrier, came in for respiratory problems that he said prevented him from working at his last job at an auto parts store and have finally induced him to quit smoking. He said he had heard about the clinic through a niece and was "very much" satisfied with the treatment there.
"He really seems like he cares," he said of Henderson. "I'd rather a human see me than a machine."
Faith Family clinic opened with a building donated by Baptist Hospital and substantial financial help from several Nashville foundations. Support comes from other individuals and organizations and includes providing many of the medical supplies.
The clinic has three office workers and three medical personnel - Henderson, a physician's assistant and a nurse practitioner. Henderson said it costs $35,000 to $40,000 a month to operate the clinic, adding that that figure mostly covers salaries. Volunteer consultant Steve McHugh said Henderson and his assistants all could earn much more working elsewhere.
All of them indicated that it is important to them to feel free to share their Christian religion with patients. They also profess dedication to the clinic's mission.
"We don't skimp because they don't have money," nurse practitioner Elizabeth Netsch said
By Jack Hurst