In his work with the Oklahoma City nonprofit Health Alliance for the Uninsured, Dr. Dave Bratzler has seen patients who refused to go to a hospital because of lack of health insurance.
One gentleman, who relied on the free health clinics that fall under the Health Alliance for the Uninsured umbrella, thought his local clinic was closed. It wasn’t, but in the short time he didn’t receive medical care, he went into heart failure.
“His blood pressure was completely uncontrolled. Because of that, he went into heart failure,” said Dr. Bratzler. “When I saw him in the clinic, not only did he have uncontrolled blood pressure, but was starting to retain fluids and have difficulty breathing. Not surprisingly, he was one of those people who really did not want to go to the hospital because he couldn’t afford the cost or the co-pays.”
Because the Health Alliance for the Uninsured (HAU) works with partner hospitals and health agencies and buys medications in bulk, Dr. Bratzler was able to give the man the medications he needed to stay alive.
“I could have easily justified sending him to the hospital, but he didn't want to go because he knew he would end up with a huge debt. I personally have treated a great number of hepatitis C patients now in the clinic and provided the incredibly expensive drugs that we've been able to get through Patient Assistance Programs,” Dr. Bratzler said.
“Diabetes is the one disease that I've really been focused on recently. I see so many patients that come in who have poorly controlled blood sugars, but because of the ability to use a whole spectrum of some of the new diabetes medications that we're able to get, we can get their blood sugars under control.”
Many of these same patients who turn to the 14 free health clinics in Oklahoma County through the HAU are not homeless or elderly, Dr. Bratzler was quick to point out. Many are working families with jobs that do not cover health insurance costs. Most do not make enough each month to save for self-pay insurance.
All, however, are grateful that they are able to receive the life-saving care they and their family need through the volunteer efforts of doctors, nurses, administrators, local hospitals and more.
WHO CARES FOR WHO?
The Health Alliance for the Uninsured is a catalyst for access to health care services for those who otherwise would be unable to obtain them. HAU is a community collaborative that makes quality health care available to Oklahoma county’s vulnerable uninsured and under-insured populations. Partners include physicians, safety net clinics, hospitals and other public and private partners.
According to HAU, roughly 150,000 in Oklahoma City are uninsured, and each year, the HAU clinic serves 12,000 to 15,000 people with the help of thousands of volunteer health care workers.
“This is a life-saving opportunity,” said Jeanean Yanish, executive director of HAU. “Oklahoma is in a health crisis with 17 percent of our population uninsured or underinsured. In Oklahoma County, almost 1 in 4 are uninsured or underinsured.”
Every 24 minutes, someone dies in the U.S. due to a lack of health insurance, and 80 percent of Oklahomans who are uninsured are in working families.
The HAU was the brainchild of Founding President R. Murali Krishna, MD, Senior Consultant with INTEGRIS Mind-Brain Health, who was elected president of the Oklahoma County Medical Society in 2005. As president, he challenged all the doctors to discuss what impact they could have on the community at large.
“That discussion led to several months of intense discussions, and I was able to get a consensus by the end that we were going to do something for the uninsured and underinsured with our own resources that we can generate among the physicians, and generate interest with the local community partners,” Krishna said.
“That's when we formed the Health Alliance for The Uninsured. The physician leaders we have are some of the kindest and most compassionate human beings in Oklahoma.”
Just recently, HAU has launched a Healthcare Services Navigation Program to help low-income, uninsured, and underinsured clients navigate central Oklahoma’s complex healthcare referral network. Navigators will expedite service delivery for Oklahomans seeking basic health, mental health, vision, dental, and women’s health care, and Medicaid enrollment.
Through HAU, patients can come to the free clinics, see physicians, receive needed procedures or surgeries and receive free medications.
“Ther is really beautiful work being done by many, many physicians, many nurses and many volunteers,” said Dr. Krishna. “It's a community effort - one most beautiful in the United States and the whole community is behind it.”
For more information, visit hauonline.org.