116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The omicron variant now accounts for a clear majority of all new coronavirus cases, and hospitals are once again surging with patients. Securing an appointment for a free drive-thru COVID test can take up to a week, and organizations are tightening protocols to keep employees and the public safe. With the increase in cases in our community, even seeking care for non-COVID illnesses and injuries becomes more challenging.
Those of us with health insurance may be concerned about copays and deductibles. In Iowa, individuals with an income that does not exceed $15,521 (or $20,921 for a family of two) are covered by Medicaid. About 53,000 more Iowans are enrolled in Affordable Care Act compliant plans. However, 6 percent of our state’s population remains uninsured.
For those who are uninsured and seeking care during a pandemic, how to best go about addressing a medical issue can be a confusing and expensive process. Many primary care physicians won’t take on a new patient who is uninsured. Should they visit an urgent care and risk being sent to the hospital anyway? Head straight to an ER and risk a long wait and capacity issues?
For many, the biggest concern is that final bill.
Medical debt is common; roughly 18 percent of Americans have medical debt in collections. In fact, it is the number one reason cited by Americans filing for bankruptcy.
One organization working to fill the gap in care is Eastern Iowa Health Center (EIHC), a federally qualified health center in Cedar Rapids.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ursula Livermore described the process for those in need seeking care with EIHC: “The majority of our patients have Medicaid. For those who are uninsured or underinsured, EIHC maintains a sliding scale. We also have an enrollment specialist who works with individuals to get access to health care coverage options.” This service proves particularly helpful for unhoused individuals and the immigrant and refugee populations that frequent the medical provider.
Citing the recent stories about medical professionals leaving the field, I asked Dr. Livermore if it has been difficult to maintain ideal staffing levels.
“Yes. At EIHC we have several openings for nursing and are actively recruiting — our teams are working hard to fill the gaps. A number of people have left the field or are taking positions outside of direct patient care. As a nonprofit health center, we can’t compete with the providers that are able to provide large bonuses, but we do have a unique student loan repayment option for qualifying individuals. Those coming to work here are able to practice their skills and treat an underserved population.”
EIHC has set aside Wellington Plaza clinic to provide services to those with COVID symptoms.
A lull in new cases about a month ago led the organization to consider reassigning the use of Wellington Plaza, but the uptick in demand put an end to that discussion.
“I am so proud of our team — they have done a great job of both keeping themselves healthy and educating those in our community. Before any proclamation was made, over 95 percent of our staff chose to get vaccinated,” Livermore said.
Healthcare organizations like Eastern Iowa Health Center provide medical care to populations in need and serve as an alternative to someone who may end up in the emergency room if they didn’t have the ready access to routine and preventive care. Other nonprofit organizations include:
- His Hands Free Clinic (Cedar Rapids)
- Community Health Free Clinic (Cedar Rapids)
- Planned Parenthood (Cedar Rapids and Iowa City)
- Emma Goldman Clinic (Iowa City)
- Iowa City Free Medical Clinic (Iowa City)
- Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics (Iowa City and Coralville)
The work of providing care is critical to long term outcomes for those already experiencing obstacles to quality of life. Nonprofit medical providers support those in our community in addressing the health care access pillar of the social determinants of health, the conditions of life that shape our long-term health outcomes. Health equity cannot be solved by the few but must be the goal of the many. As we have been reminded over the past two years, our health as community members is interwoven.
Every one of these organizations could use help from the community, now more than ever. Please visit their websites to learn more about how you can get involved, whether through donations or volunteer hours.
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com