Free Clinic Experience

My career choices and my current lifestyle are built around the idea of serving others. Rarely do I find myself on the receiving end of these services. Over the past week I have had the humbling experience to be in that spot.

Two weeks ago I found myself with a horrible toothache. Due to the limited coverage of the insurance offered through Mission Year, I found myself last week looking for dental clinics that would take uninsured patients. After calling around to all the clinics I know that take cash payments, most didn’t have appointments until March or April. Finally I got into a clinic last week, which took me 1.5 hours to get to on public transportation. The appointment itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and I left feeling very frustrated. After taking films, the dentist came into my room for all of maybe 2 minutes, didn’t even look in my mouth, and told me I needed a root canal, which meant coming back in and paying them several hundred dollars for the procedure.

Determined to get a better opinion I started all over again making phone calls to the clinics seeing if there was any way I could get in sooner. Finally I realized that my best choice was a free clinic located in downtown Atlanta called St. Joseph’s Mercy Care. On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s they have a walk in emergency dental clinic, and people start lining up around 6:30 to 7 am to be seen when the clinic opens at 8:30 am. As with many free clinics, you must prove that you are a Georgia resident and that you cannot afford to pay for the services on your own, so I spent Monday night making sure I had all the right documents to take.

I arrived at the clinic at 6:50 am and I was the fourth person in line. At 7 am they let us inside to sign-in and sit and wait until the clinic opened. At 8:30 am they announced that the dentist was running late and wouldn’t be in until 9:30 am. After sitting there for 3 hours, at 10 am they called me to the window and told me that I wouldn’t be seen until 1 pm so if I wanted to I could leave, get some food, and come back. Opting for this choice I left.

Arriving back at the clinic around 12:45 pm, I was called back at 1 pm. The dental assistant and dentist were very friendly and talked with me about what was going on. They took some films; the dentist actually looked in my mouth and talked with me about my options. The cavity looked like it was close to the nerve, but she offered to go and attempt the filling. If it seemed to close to the nerve she would put in temporary filling and I would be referred to another clinic for a root canal. Thankfully the cavity was smaller, and they were able to place a filling. I walked out of the clinic by 2 pm.

While this was a first time experience for me, I realized that this process is exactly what many of the people I work with go through when I write them healthcare referrals to the various clinics around the city. I was humbled and have grown a deeper appreciation for the patience some of these people can have with this entire process. This experience also confirmed why I want to go back to school to be a nurse practitioner and work in similar clinics. There is a strong need for these free clinics and the healthcare professionals to staff them.

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  1. #1 by Janet on February 15, 2012 - 10:41 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing this Debbie! I’m praying for you and Josh!:-)
    (and I’m thankful it ended up just being a filling!)

  2. #2 by Melissa on March 5, 2012 - 2:55 PM

    I agree with you Debbie. We need to take action to make health care more accessible to everyone. It’s a tragedy in our society what people are unable to afford. How can something as basic as healthcare be inaccessible to so many? My thoughts are that it’s important to get involved politically. I often feel like I have no voice so I can only imagine how those less fortunate feel.

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