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Health care for all? Yes, clinic says

Peninsula Health will open Aug. 2 at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center.

Low-cost medical care for the uninsured is an oxymoron – almost.

A bright spot is the nonprofit Peninsula Community Health Services, which provides primary medical care to low-income and uninsured patients.

Starting Aug. 2, PCHS will open a clinic offering service every Monday at the Bainbridge Commons.

“In an ideal world, everyone would have a ‘medical home’ to access preventative and acute care,” said Barbara Malich, PCHS chief executive officer. “(But) the rising number of uninsured has changed the profile of the uninsured. Many are fully employed but the employer does not cover (medical insurance).

“Access to primary care that is available regardless of ability to pay has been one of the missing pieces.”

PCHS – half of whose patients are ages 19-64 – works to meet the need. Patients are charged for services on a sliding scale based on their income; the clinic also accepts DSHS/medical coupons, Healthy Options, Basic Health and other private insurance reimbursements.

The clinic will offer a full range of primary care one day a week on an appointment and walk-in basis.

Dr. Brad Andersen, a family practitioner now at the PCHS Bremerton clinic, will be the primary care physician at the Bainbridge Island clinic. The offerings could expand.

“One day a week is hard to make an impact,” Malich said. “If (the need is) validated, we hope to eventually be able to support a clinic five days a week.”

For now, PCHS will book patients who need service other days at its Poulsbo clinic, open Monday through Friday.

Uninsured

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2002 figures showed that almost 44 million people – 15.2 percent of the U.S. population – were uninsured for at least one year, up from 14.6 percent in 2001. Tens of millions are without insurance for shorter periods of time; PCHS has seen the number of uninsured patients at its clinics increase 38 percent so far in 2004.

The Bainbridge clinic will open thanks to the city’s Health, Housing and Human Services Council’s Affordable Medical and Dental Care Action Team, of which PCHS was a member. The team, which recommended ways for the city to respond to community health-care needs, was formed after a 2003 study highlighted lack of low-cost medical care services here.

“I’m excited about the opening of the clinic. It’s going to address an important unmet need,” said Jan Lambert, executive director of HHHS.

PCHS already has a clinic open weekdays in Poulsbo. Only 5-6 percent of patients there are from Bainbridge, but Malich said an island facility might draw more.

“There might be a significant Medicare group that may seek care at a Bainbridge clinic,” Malich said. “There was also the perception that those in subsidized housing may have transportation challenges.”

Lambert emphasizes the clinic was realized thanks to cooperation with the city, which already leases space in the Commons building to the Kitsap County Health District for its Tuesday clinic, which offers immunization shots for travel or school, and family planning such as birth control pills, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception and HIV testing and counseling.

The Health District will provide space for the Peninsula facility, and PCHS will work with Helpline House to publicize the clinic. For patients needing specialty referrals, there is support from both Seattle and Kitsap networks.

Founded in 1989, PCHS operates five health clinics in Kitsap and Grays Harbor Counties and served 26,586 patients in 2003, of which 95 percent were at 199 percent of poverty income levels or below – less than $36,019 a year for a family of four.

PCHS programs are paid 45 percent by Medicaid and the rest by sliding-scale payments, insurance or managed care contracts.

The organization has joined the Bainbridge Foundation’s One Call for All drive to supplement its funding from federal, state, local and private grants, United Way and individual contributions.

“Our (medical) providers are not volunteers. They are high quality doctors providing the highest quality care you get anywhere,” Malich said. “It’s going to take the commitment of community support for our facilities and operations for us to move in.”

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Common good

The Bainbridge Island clinic of the Peninsula Community Health Services will open at the Bainbridge Commons starting Aug. 2. Hours will be Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Until the clinic opens, contact the Poulsbo clinic (weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at (360) 779-1963, PCHS administration at (360) 478-2366 or see www.pchsweb.org.

Community Events, April 2014

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