Free health clinic skips the debate

September 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Concord on Wednesday night a group of volunteer doctors and nurses have stopped debating about health care and taken action. Their operating a free clinic with one critical requirement from patients.

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In a medical system plagued by perceived imperfections and paralyzed by debate, this free clinic would be a band-aid at least.

"When I called, they said get back at 1:00 sharp. They would take the first fifteen calls," says Tom Mitchell, a patient.

Mitchell is a taxpaying mechanic. A description that wouldn't seem to fit the profile for someone attending free medical clinic, but it was a new world in Concord.

They see the whole gamut of medical maladies, but they have just one requirement -- that patents have no medical insurance.

"It's a lot cheaper if we see patients in our clinic, than they show up in the emergency room," says retired cardiac surgeon Steven Wolfe, M.D.

Dr. Wolfe is one of the Rotary Club volunteers who created this clinic, which partners with Kaiser and John Muir Medical Center. They see a need.

"We have certainly a higher caliber of people than I expected. So that really speaks to me there is a real problem because these are people who are working that still don't have health insurance," says volunteer nurse Christie Devoe.

Mitchell, for instance, has catastrophic insurance, but nothing to cover routine blood work. Patient Samuel Velez, with bad knees from a construction job, has been working without a net.

"It's hard to get insurance. It costs a lot of money, it doesn't fit into my budget," says Velez.

If it sounds like central casting from the president's recent address, Bill Pigeon -- a volunteer pharmacist -- would agree.

"So I guess it's just the issue of maybe the cost to see the physician to get the prescription for the medicine, is maybe the potential barrier," says Pigeon. When asked if it should be complicated, he replied, "No, it shouldn't."

Thursday night it wasn't complicated, as none of 16 patients paid a dime. Some will be back when the clinic returns, next week. And that's an assurance for those without insurance.

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