The Process of Learning About Free and Reduced Cost Clinics

hand with pen

Where will we find a church that heals?

Why did we develop the clinic interviews?
In the summer and fall of 2005, the Clifford M. Lewis, S.J. Appalachian Institute and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston collaborated to create and conduct a survey of administrators at ten free and reduced-cost clinics across the state.

Through this survey, we wanted to find out who uses these clinics, what services are provided, and the strengths and challenges of these health care delivery centers. Further, we wanted to learn about the current and potential relationships between the clinics and the faith-based institutions in the communities. We developed a parallel survey which we administered to the leadership of local Catholic parishes in the same community as the clinic to compare their views of the health care needs and partnership potential between the two.

What did we learn from the clinic interviews?
We learned that these clinics provide an impressive array of primary care services including medical exams, diagnostic testing and screening, health education, referrals to specialists and hospitals, and even some dental services. Most clinics serve both children and adults, at no cost or cost based on ability to pay.

While most patients are local, several serve residents of four or five counties, some of whom travel from fifty or more miles away to receive care. The Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) regularly refers individuals to these centers, but most say that “word of mouth” brings in most patients. The clinics operate at or beyond capacity on a regular basis. Still there are more services they would like to provide. Most frequently mentioned among these are more extensive mental health care, dental care, and consultations with specialists.

The obstacles to providing health care named by clinic staff were remarkably uniform. They recognize that the inadequate access to transportation impacts delivery of services across the state. Many also referred to some aspect of the “West Virginia culture” — the men and women who loathe accepting “handouts,” those whose fatalistic attitudes limit their interest in preventive care and healthy lifestyle choices, and the parents who forego treatment so their limited resources are used for their children’s health.

What roles are there for neighboring churches?
While clinics were grateful for the assistance they receive from local churches of all denominations, the forms of support were limited. Churches occasionally contribute money, but little else.

Most clinic directors admitted that they hadn’t really considered other assistance the faith community could provide. In fact, none even mentioned the role for churches in providing spiritual encouragement or advocacy for additional community/governmental resources.

When pressed, they seemed most interested in soliciting help with the already identified hurdle to service delivery – transportation of patients to the clinics. A few envision churches providing volunteers to help patients with the paperwork that must be completed. Even fewer imagine a more expansive role for churches. They suggested that churches could provide facilities, recruitment, and bulletin notices for health education programs on smoking, diabetes, obesity, drug and alcohol abuse and poor nutrition in their communities.

In short, the clinics we interviewed seek to expand the work they do. However, based on past experience, they are not looking to the Church as a partner in reaching that goal. It is our observation that simply by raising the question about a wider role for parishes, that at least respondents were open to the possibility of collaboration with churches and may have had their curiosity about their Catholic neighbors willingness and interest in community health care.