Two nights a month, I grab my physician's coat and get in the car and head back to practicing medicine - something I did for 34 years.
Waiting for help at the Faith Care Free Clinic are very eager patients, mostly the working poor, who battle diabetes, hypertension and depression, among other illnesses.
A team of highly dedicated volunteers from Wesley United Methodist Church and others in the community, including nurses, physicians and other health care providers, join me to offer complimentary medical care to the patients at the Faith Care Free Clinic - one of more than 100 free clinics in the state of Georgia.
But unfortunately, our work is not enough. We donate our time, a local surgical practice donates office space and pharmaceutical companies donate prescription drugs. But the demand is much greater than we can meet.
This is March, yet our appointments are already booked into summer. We can only provide primary care services twice a month. We also attempt to refer patients to specialists or other health care providers who may offer evaluations and treatment free of charge. That, of course, is difficult and limited.
We have an opportunity to expand our mission, however, if the Georgia Legislature were to closely review our strategy and consider allocating a one-time, $2 million grant to the Georgia Free Clinic Network to grow clinics and expand current services. It is a request that would well serve the community and the taxpayers.
The Georgia Free Clinic Network is a coalition of free and sliding-scale health clinics treating some of the 1.7 million uninsured in Georgia. Our clinics provide a savings to taxpayers and are a cost-effective method of caring for those who fall through the cracks.
Instead of turning to an emergency room for routine medical care, patients can visit our clinics for prescription refills or regular doctor visits for diabetes, arthritis or to monitor high blood pressure.
A report from the state auditor last year found that Georgia's free clinics provided $200 to $400 million in care for 140,000 low-income, uninsured Georgians.
Another study in one community found that a typical emergency room visit to treat a sore throat was $270. A patient visit to a local free clinic, by comparison, cost only $29, including medication.
While clinics such as our Faith Care Free Clinic can't treat severe health issues such as cancer or traumatic injuries, we could do much more if we could expand our services and hours or establish additional clinics throughout the state.
Faith Care Free Clinic opened about five years ago as a ministry of the Wesley United Methodist Church. We are a faith-based clinic, which sees uninsured patients of Columbia County who are up to 200 percent of the poverty level.
The church continues to support this ministry and views our clinic as an essential service to the community in Columbia County and Evans.
Another free health clinic is expected to open shortly in Grovetown. More are definitely needed in the Augusta area and throughout Georgia as the number of uninsured grows as people lose their jobs. But we have to have the funds to launch these clinics.
If you have ever been without health insurance, or have ever faced a hefty medical bill, you know how terrifying it can be to not be able to afford health care.
Free clinics such as the Faith Care Free Clinic are one piece of the puzzle to treating the uninsured. Hopefully our state legislators will see the cost-benefit of our clinics and make sure the Georgia Free Clinic Network gets this one-time, $2 million appropriation to see our good works grow.
Dr. Al Lightsey, a retired pediatric hematologist/oncologist, is the medical director of the Faith Care Free Clinic in Evans.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.