Oakwood facilitates roundtable on Federally Qualified Health Center funding

Taylor, Mich. – Marlene Spinella knew she was in trouble. Recently, she was experiencing stroke symptoms, but had no health insurance and only $93 in the bank—not enough for a doctor’s visit.

Spinella instead went to the Western Wayne Family Health Center in Taylor, where she was seen for $20 and was not only treated for her symptoms, but given referrals for other preventive health services she needed.

“I never would have been able to afford this,” said the Allen Park resident. “This means a great deal to me. People like me—low income people—we need it. Otherwise we won’t get medical care and our families will suffer from it.”

Brownstown Resident Edith Harris can relate. After her husband had a stroke and was unable to work, she found herself rejected by Medicaid and she could not get disability insurance. Her supply of medicine and insulin was being rapidly depleted.

“I ran out of everything and I had no way to get it,” she said. “My diabetic readings were out of control.” Like Spinella, she took advantage of the low-cost care at the Western Wayne Family Center and, through $4 prescriptions, was on her way to getting her condition under control again.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) like the one in Taylor provide a valuable service to the community, but their funding is in jeopardy, according to Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan). Dingell participated in a round table discussion this week with patients, doctors and administrators designed to highlight the need for the centers as well as the importance of keeping them adequately funded.

“Every community deserves to have local health care facilities. Community Health Centers like Western Wayne Family Health Centers play a vital role in our health care system,” said Dingell. “Medicaid and uninsured patients are no longer forced to travel far to receive care. Further, community health centers help families who cannot travel by saving them the expense and long wait in our region’s overburdened emergency rooms.”

That access to proactive care will also help reduce the overall cost of care, as well, according to Dr. Patricia Lopez, MD, who also practices out of the Oakwood Healthcare Center—Westland and holds privileges at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne. She referred to a patient who, after ignoring a urinary tract infection during her pregnancy, ended up being admitted to the hospital for a pre-term delivery and her newborn child spent two months in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). Lopez said both could probably have been avoided with an early doctor’s visit.

“The most important part of care is the preventive part and that’s where we should focus,” she said. “We need to give access to preventive care to the people of the community; the hospital shouldn’t be the first access to care.”

Bishop Walter Stargill of Inkster agreed. When he left his corporate job to follow God’s calling, he also left behind defined health benefits. A recent trip to the hospital left him with a bill that followed him for a year. He found an affordable primary care physician at the Community Health Center in Inkster—and a lot more.

“It feels good to have a place, not just as a doctor’s office, but more of a home where you can get certain types of care that you need,” he said. “That’s very important during these economic times.

“You don’t feel ashamed, you don’t feel embarrassed, they don’t holler out: ‘Oh, you don’t have insurance?’” he added. “Nobody wants to feel embarrassed; nobody wants to feel ‘less than.’ You want to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Dingell, who co-authored the Affordable Care Act, said he is committed to maintaining funding for federally qualified health centers through the next few budget years and beyond, when the ACA—or federal health reform bill—is enacted.

“There’s money in the ACA to do this,” he said. “Just because people don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean that they should get high quality health care.”
He said it would be a long fight, however. Not only is there an urge from the Republican side of the aisle to repeal the act, he said he expects republicans will try to block the required expenditures through the budget process if they fail to repeal the bill.

“As the costs of health care continue to rise across the country and threaten access, thousands of families across Southeast Michigan struggle to afford and find adequate health care for their families,” said Dingell. “I think it is the right thing to do to fund preventative services to the most vulnerable in our society, ensuring they receive their immunizations, their physicals, and critical health screenings, among other services.”