I've wanted to do a story on free clinics for the uninsured since I visited one such clinic this winter in Greenville, Miss., along the Mississippi River Delta. There I found a nurse practitioner who was working as hard as she could to serve a population that had very limited access to medical care. In the few hours that I visited this clinic, we met folks who hadn't seen a doctor in years because they couldn't afford to.
I found many of the same stories in Flint, Mich., at the Genesee County Free Medical Clinic. The clinic treats only the uninsured and is funded entirely through fundraising and the support of several local hospitals. More than 60 nurses and 60 doctors volunteer their time to help.
I learned about the clinic after reading a couple of local stories about a volunteer there, Dr. Samuel Dismond, who recently won a community service award for his work. Dismond is a thoughtful, gentle man who told me that it's "rejuvenating" to volunteer at the clinic. Though he also said that "it can be a frustration to me, as a healer, [to see] so many people we're not able to help and not help adequately." You can read my full story here.
There are plenty of people in Flint that do, indeed, need help. Home to General Motors, there have been a number of layoffs as factories have been closed down and shifts have been cut. When we were at the clinic, Dale Willis who had just been permanently laid off from his job at an auto-parts supplier came in for the first time. Willis was clearly shaken by the loss of his job and worried that it would be hard to find another one at his stage in life. Willis told me that he'd even consider taking a job as a janitor if he needed to. "If you'd asked me at 21 what I'd be like at 51, I'd say, in a lot better situation than I am now!" Dale said.
Susan (didn't want to give her last name) was at the clinic too. She saw a flyer for the free clinic in the trailer park where she lives. Though she'd just started a job at WalMart she didn't have medical insurance yet. "It's scary not having medical because if anything ever really seriously happened to me, I don't know how I'd take care of it," Susan told me.
That fear was echoed among everyone we spoke with, and the volunteers at Genesee County Free Medical Clinic clearly know they're filling a need.
Kimberlee Maloney, a registered nurse who lost her job and insurance, may have summed it up best when she said, "It's devastating because every day you wake up and think, 'Today I hope there's nothing wrong.'"