Clinic is a 'godsend' for patients

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Those who work at the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County will tell you that the patient demographics there have changed in recent years.
A homeless person without a high school education might be sitting in the waiting area next to someone with a college education who has been laid off and can no longer afford the cost of health insurance.
With high unemployment and a dismal economy, more and more people are turning to the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County for basic medical and dental care.
Different circumstances have led them there, but what they have in common is a deep appreciation for what they receive from the clinic.
Those who attended a fashion show fundraiser for the clinic recently heard the story of Mari Phillips, who had enjoyed a comfortable life with her husband but found herself in the years following his unexpected death falling into financial insecurity. She began coming to the clinic in 2008.
“I am the new face of the clinic,” she said. “We’re people who have never had to ask for help, who are here just because of circumstances. It can happen to anybody.”
She works, but it’s part-time, for minimum wage, she says.
The clinic has “meant everything” to her.
“I would not have been able to even take my maintenance medication for high blood pressure and diabetes,” she said. Had it not been for the clinic she also probably would not discovered a blood disorder that is now being closely monitored.
James Sparger has been coming to the clinic for several years. He comes every six weeks or so to keep up with his diabetes, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis.
Like many who use the clinic, Sparger works — he’s a truck driver — but does not have a full-time job.
And that means that he doesn’t have any health insurance.
He’s incredibly grateful to the clinic. “It’s a godsend that there’s something like this in this community,” he says.
“Connie (Antosek) and Rachel (Wieder) are two of the finest people you will meet,” he said. “They go over and beyond. They do more than meets the eye for everyone.”
Sparger sees Dr. Gordon Senter for his rheumatoid arthritis and says the improvement in his health has been remarkable.
In fact, he says, if it weren’t for the clinic, he’s not sure where he’d be right now.
“I’m so thankful they’re there to help me and others.”
The medication he’s taking for his arthritis costs about $1,800 a month, he says, adding that there is no way he would be able to “out of pocket” that.
Before being treated, he says, there were days when he couldn’t even get out of bed because of his arthritis. Now, he’s able to work when he he’s called on.
Sparger, who is 49, says he’s been without health insurance since he lost his full-time job, which has been a little more than 10 years ago.
“They don’t know how much I appreciate them,” he says of the clinic staff. “The people are just fantastic who work there. They treat you like you’re one of the family.
That’s a sentiment echoed by Daniel Teasley, who’s been coming to the clinic for about four years now.
“I’ve developed a relationship with those people,” he says. “The clinic is like a breath of fresh air on a bad day, for real.”
Teasley is being treated for hypertension and diabetes and gets his medication at the clinic. He also uses the clinic as his primary care giver for “whatever comes up” during the year, he says.
He began going to the clinic after his skyrocketing blood pressure led to a trip to the emergency room. He goes to the clinic about every three months, if he’s not having problems.
Teasley, 44, is also without insurance. He used to work at Cracker Barrel, but like many of the employees there, he worked 28-30 hours a week and thus didn’t qualify for benefits, he says.
He recently got a job as a cook at Catawba College, he says. He looks forward to being able to secure health insurance through his new job.
The people at the clinic are compassionate and “understand what’s going on out there,” Teasley says, with people losing jobs and being unable to replace them because of the economy — or only finding part-time work with no benefits.
Libby Nafziger has her diabetes and hypertension managed at the clinic.
She learned about the Community Care Clinic from Social Services, she says, when she went to inquire about getting Medicaid. She didn’t qualify, so they referred her to the Community Care Clinic, where she applied for services and was accepted.
“I didn’t know that Rowan County had anything like that,” she said.
Nafziger, who lives in Rockwell, has a full-time job but says she can’t afford to buy into her employer’s health insurance plan.
She’s been with the clinic for about four years, she says, and she goes monthly.
“I get wonderful care,” she says.
“They are very compassionate medical people who don’t make you feel like you’re not worthy of anything because you don’t have insurance. Everyone I’ve seen has been wonderful.
“Without them I wouldn’t be getting any medicine or seeing doctors becasue I couldn’t afford to go. They are a great group of people. I could never repay them.”
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The clinic was founded in 1996 by Rowan Regional Medical Center in an effort to provide health care to a qualifying segment of needy residents. Day and evening clinics offer basic healthcare for adults, chronic disease management, medications, vision care and dental care.
Last year, the clinic provided services to 2,328 patients, says clinic director Connie Antosek.
The clinic’s in-house pharmacy dispensed almost 18,000 prescriptions and provided individual counseling for every patient. All of these services are free to the patients.
“The demands for our services have increased over the last two years due to the unemployment rate and the increasing cost of health care,” Antosek says.
“We’re seeing double what we used to. The numbers are getting bigger and bigger.”
In Rowan County, 19 percent of the population is uninsured, she says, adding that even with health care reform legislation, the need for free clinics will continue.
“The Community Care Clinic has become a vital part of the health care continuum in our community,” she says.
Volunteers, local foundations, and donors help keep the doors of the clinic open.
One of its main goals is to give people a place to go instead of the ER for non-emergency illnesses.
Medications are available to clients through a medication assistance program. A pharmacy technician works with the pharmaceutical companies to get donations for about 80 percent of the medications the clinic dispenses.
The clinic does have to purchase about 20 percent of the medications used, Antosek says.
“A lot of our diabetic medications there is no free program for,” she explains.
Although the clinic has been in existence for 15 years, there are still many people who don’t know about it.
Antosek wants the public to know that the clinic now has the ability to see more new patients.
That is in large part because of Dr. David Smith, who recently retired from Rowan Regional Medical Center and has bumped up the hours he works at the clinic. He’s now working on average two and a half days a week at the clinic and seeing more than 20 patients a day.
Smith began covering the clinic’s Tuesday evening clinic about 15 years ago.
Since retiring as from his administrative post at Rowan Regional Medical Center in January, he’s been able to devote more time to the clinic.
For Smith, the motivation to work at the clinic is simple.
“I like seeing patients,” he says.
And that’s a good thing, given the growing need.
Before Smith took on more hours, “for every five or six patients we saw, there were at least 10 or 20 that wanted to be seen,” she says.
Smith says that the face of the patient has changed. He notes that they are seeing more college-educated patients who have been caught in the down-spiraling economy.
The clinic’s patients tend to be very considerate and appreciative of what the clinic does for them, Smith says — and simply being thanked is a big part of why Smith spends so much time working at the clinic.
“I enjoy doing this,” he says. “It’s good for them and good for me.”
Martin Hannah is one of Smith’s grateful patients. He’s been coming to the clinic for two years, since he was laid off from his job as a pipefitter.
Hannah has hypertension, and much of what the clinic does is screening and follow-up for this and other chronic conditions, including diabetes.
“This place has been a big help for me,” he says.
• • •
The Community Care Clinic — which gratefully accepts donations — sees patients by appointment only and is located at 315-G Mocksville Ave. Hours are Monday-Thursday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m.-noon.
The clinic is also open Tuesday evenings from 5:30-8:30 .
Rowan County residents can call 704-636-4523 any time during normal hours of operation for a telephone screening for eligibility.