Thursday, October 28, 2010

Health care for the homeless

If you heard a joyful shout Wednesday night it was me after receiving the awesome news that free basic health care for the homeless in Dothan, Ala., will soon be a reality.

All the glory and praise to God for He has indeed answered another prayer. This has been a concern of ours for a long time as the homeless have nowhere to go except to the local emergency room. But many times they don't even go there because they are ashamed or just don't know they can.

They need a place they can go for regular check ups and when they get sick. Most of us enjoy the luxury of having health insurance. When I get sick or have a battle with gout as I did recently, I just call my doctor and go to his office. I pay $25 and insurance covers the rest. It's something I take for granted, but it's something the homeless cannot do. Too often they catch a cold or the flu and just live with it. Some die because of the flu or a sickness turns into pneumonia.

Beginning Dec. 7, that all changes in Dothan, Ala., thanks to Dr. Steve Stokes and the Alfred Saliba Family Services Center's free health clinic.

 Here's a little background. The Alfred Saliba Family Services (ASFS) clinic has been providing free health care for people who do not have insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, etc. They serve more than 1,200 patients, around 800 regular patients. They have been funded by grants from the Wiregrass Foundation, which funds certain projects with the hope that the projects can become self-sufficient over a certain period. The grant money for the free clinic came to an end and it was going to close at the end of this year.

A few months ago one our of homeless men, Rickey, was hit by a freight train. He was taken to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital. After visiting Rickey, I called Dr. Stokes and asked if he would check on him because I wanted to make sure he was getting the best care possible. With no insurance and unable to speak for himself, I just wanted to make sure he was receiving the proper treatment. And, he was.

Then Dr. Stokes asked me what kind of health care was available for the homeless. I told him just the emergency room. That began our talks of opening a weekly triage clinic for the homeless to take care of basic health needs. That led to talks with Dr. Searcy and her staff at the ASFS free clinic.

The one problem with the free clinic was it usually took at least two weeks to get an appointment. That just doesn't work for the homeless. With the clinic running out of funding, things didn't look good. That's when Dr. Stokes said he would try to find 20 physicians and nurses who would volunteer their time to keep the free clinic open.

He was successful, and plans are for the clinic to open three days a week to provide free health care for the needy like it has been doing. But one new phase is a free health clinic every Tuesday, 5-8:30 p.m., for the homeless. Praise God! No more waiting two weeks. If they have a cold or a sickness, they will be treated. The clinic has an incredible pharmacy, so basic meds will be no problem. Narcotics are not distributed at the clinic for obvious reasons.

The Wiregrass Foundation came through with more funds to meet the basic needs of the clinic. The rest is all volunteer work. This is what can happen when the community comes together. Dr. Searcy has done an incredible job over the years meeting the health needs of the needy. Now she will have a lot more help from the medical community.

This new plan for the homeless health care was scheduled to go into effect in January 2011. I asked Dr. Stokes if it could start Dec. 7 of this year. He asked ASFS and they agreed to begin one month earlier than planned. Praise God! They have the facilities and the homeless will now have free basic health care. Dr. Stokes will be the physician volunteering his time on Tuesday nights for the homeless.

I will meet with the Homeless Coalition in Dothan next Thursday to share this wonderful news to make sure as many of the homeless as possible in Dothan know about the clinic, and discuss logistics of transportation to and from the clinic.

Praise God for this tremendous opportunity, and praise God for people like Dr. Stokes and people and organizations like the Alfred Saliba Family Services Center for their willingness to help those who cannot help themselves.