Citing a decline in demand as patients obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the Gwinnett Community Clinic announced recently it will be shutting its doors after more than twenty-five years of providing access to medical care for a portion of Gwinnett County’s poor, uninsured residents.
Eleven miles away at the Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett – another charitable medical clinic – we experience a very different reality. Our nonprofit has seen staggering growth during the past four years – from just more than 3,000 visits in 2011 to nearly 12,000 in 2014. So far this year, we’ve seen 10,600 people pass through our doors. We are on track to report by year end a 500% increase in patient demand since 2011. If the ACA has solved the access to healthcare problem, how can our experience be explained?
Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett, a Christian ministry, is open 52 hours-per-week and serves individuals of all ages no matter where they live. Walk-ins and patients with appointments are served without a referral, proof of residency, or income caps. The only eligibility requirement is simple – the individual must be uninsured. The average household profile of our customers is 4.2 occupants barely getting by on $18,446 a year.
Interestingly, we’ve had many requests for services from people who have obtained insurance through the ACA but found they could not afford the copayments and deductibles sometimes reaching as much as $6,000. Why have insurance, they ask us. We try to help these people too, understanding no one can easily spend one-third their gross income on medical bills.
Our limited eligibility criteria avails our services to families living in the so called Coverage Gap and who for various reasons are unable to receive services elsewhere. Many charitable clinics throughout Georgia, the Gwinnett Community Clinic included, operate by appointment only during limited hours, often as few as ten hours a week. We serve so many because we are open so often, and we make it as easy as possible to get in the door.
Our business model assumes donors will help us accomplish our missional goals. On average, we spend just under $91 to provide an appointment and patient fees cover about half that cost. We’ve witnessed donations decrease in recent years, perhaps because the common narrative suggests our type organization is no longer necessary. If you think that for a moment, we encourage you to visit us. You can come in to see the need for yourself, if you can find a parking space.
Our community must recognize the need for charitable healthcare services is not diminishing; it is constant if not increasing. In fact, there also continues to be a lack of low-cost dental care, pharmacy, and mental health offerings in Gwinnett County. We plan to relocate our clinic next year to a larger building so that we can increase our efforts to meet these needs. Even in the face of diminishing donations, we forge ahead. We must. Gwinnett has lost two charitable clinics; only two remain. For some, our growth plans make no business sense. To do nothing, in our opinion, makes no Christian sense.