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Diabetes Clinic serves uninsured
Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
fills gaps in community care

By Anita Martin and Colleen Kiphart
January 27, 2010

Six years ago, Robert worked as a plant supervisor in Meigs County. Although he and his wife, Amy, are both diabetic, his company insurance eased their health concerns. “It was good coverage, paid almost all (medical) costs. We didn’t really worry about it,” he said.

When the plant laid him off, Robert and Amy, whose names have been changed here to protect privacy, had to use retirement funds to pay for COBRA insurance. Then COBRA ran out. With their diabetes, individual insurance would have cost them nearly $3,000 a month.

“It felt like the world turned upside-down,” Amy said.

Then in August 2005, Robert and Amy read about a mobile health van run by OU-HCOM’s Community Health Programs, which offer free health care to uninsured Appalachian citizens. There, nurses connected the couple with the college’s monthly Diabetes Clinic.

Now, every three months, they return to the Diabetes Clinic, located in Parks Hall in Athens, Ohio, for free check-ups.

“I thank God for that place,” Amy said. “When we hardly have money to pay the bills, they take us for free, they supply the medicine—the insulin. It’s helped us so much.”

The Diabetes Clinic began in November 2006 when local demand for diabetes care led OU-HCOM to specialize their free community health care.

“We saw a need for diabetes specialists during our regular free clinic hours,” said Kathy Trace, M.H.A., B.S.N., director of OU-HCOM Community Health Programs.

According to Diana Kasler, R.N., free clinic coordinator, the clinic currently has about 84 active charts. Although she did not have an estimate for the total value of the clinic’s services, she pointed out that they involve: “office visits, multiple blood tests, medications, testing supplies and diabetic education.”

The Diabetes Clinic “offers the total package,” Trace added. “Patients get a doctor’s visit, health education, follow-ups and  access to medications.” The clinic is staffed by volunteers from OU-HCOM and University Medical Associates Diabetes Center and funded by grants from organizations such as the Sisters of Saint Joseph Charitable Fund and the Ohio Association of Free Clinics.

At the clinic, specialized diabetes care is in ready supply. Frank Schwartz, M.D., J.O. Watson Endowed Diabetes Research Chair, often works in the clinic, alongside fellow diabetologist Jay Shubrook, D.O. (’96), associate professor of family medicine and director of clinical research.

“When I first heard ‘free clinic,’ I figured that they’d herd you in like cattle, but it’s not like that,” Robert said. “These guys—Dr. Shubrook and Dr. Schwartz—are good. And they go out of their way. They seem like they really do care about you.”

When necessary, the Diabetes Clinic provides referrals to doctors who offer volunteer medical services, as Robert and Amy know well.

More than fifteen years ago, Amy had a colonoscopy. “I was having trouble with my stomach, and when I told them (at the Diabetes Clinic) about that, they set me up with Dr. Drozek at Doctors Hospital. He did another colonscopy… and when I woke up they told me they removed a pre-cancerous polyp from my colon.”

David Drozek, D.O. (’83), is an assistant professor of specialty medicine at OU-HCOM and a surgeon at Doctors Hospital in Nelsonville. According to Drozek, Doctors Hospital offers 100 colonoscopies free to patients referred from OU-HCOM’s Free Clinic.

More recently, the Diabetes Clinic connected Amy with a specialist to investigate a fainting spell she suffered over the summer. She returned late last year for a stress test to determine whether she needs a pacemaker.

“I don’t know what he and I would do without (the free clinic),” she says. “Kathy (Trace) and all the people there have done so much for us.”

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by the body’s inability to process sugars. Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, results in an inability to secrete insulin in response to meals. This form of diabetes is most often associated with high cholesterol levels and obesity.

In Appalachian Ohio at least 11 percent of the population has diabetes—three points higher than the rest of the country. And according to the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, diabetes-related deaths in Appalachia are underestimated by as much at 50 percent.

According to Schwartz, who also directs the University Medical Associates Diabetes Center, financial burden such as loss of employment can increase the risk for both obesity and diabetes.

 “When people ask me what can be done to halt the progress of diabetes in Appalachia, I always tell them jobs,” said Schwartz. “When people are stressed, their bodies hold onto fat. And studies show that when people aren’t confident in where they will get their next meal, they tend to eat more.”

Trace emphasized that “there is no stereotypical patient at the Diabetes Clinic. The only thing that these people have in common is diabetes. When people lose jobs, health insurance is often the first thing to go. And no matter your financial status, once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it can become nearly impossible to get health insurance.”

Schwartz agrees, adding that, “with this diabetes clinic, we can offer our community free, specialized care when they need it most.”

The Diabetic Clinic sees patients every first Tuesday of the month on the second floor of Parks Hall in Athens, Ohio. This referral-based clinic is open to the uninsured and underinsured. For more information, please call (740) 593-2432.

 
 
 
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Last updated: 09/16/2011