Low-cost clinics help Georgians without health coverage

Close to 14 percent of Georgians don't have health insurance.

But, across the state, a network of charity clinics is working to make sure Georgians without coverage won't fall through the cracks.

In DeKalb County, one mother of two says a low-cost clinic caught a dangerous health problem that might have been missed.

It's Wednesday night, and part time nail technician and mother of two Katie Lyn has come in to Physicians' Care Clinic in Decatur for a checkup.

And, if you ask her how she's doing, she'll tell you she's "blessed."

"I'm so happy to be here right now," Lyn says.

Because what happened to this 43- year old is pretty remarkable.

A few years back, her sister told her about Physicians' Care, one of about 90 non-profit charity clinics serving uninsured Georgians.

Dr. Michael Baron, a volunteer here, says their patients are often "insurance poor." Many work, but have no health benefits.

"They're not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid," Dr. Baron says. "They don't have insurance. They're falling through the gaps."

And that's what might've happened to Katie Lyn 2 years ago, if she hadn't had this twice-a-week after-hours clinic.

She developed what felt like acid reflex.

So she got an appointment, paid a $20 donation, and saw a doctor.

"They gave me some medication," Lyn says. "But the symptoms didn't go away, so I came back.

And they continued to discover and see what's wrong with me."

When lab tests showed the problem may be Lyn's kidneys, and it might be serious, Lyn says Carole Fortenberry, who runs the clinic, quickly sent her to nearby DeKalb Medical for an ultrasound, at no cost to her.

"By 5 o'clock that day, the doctor here called me," Lyn says. "And he told me I need to come back in the clinic. When I came back, I see Carole. She held my hand, she read a prayer to me, and she said, "You are being taken care of."

Lyn had kidney cancer.

So, Physicians' Care helped find a surgeon, who two weeks later, removed her kidney.

"That was amazing," Lyn says. "That was more than I expected. I don't know what to say."

Most clinics have residency and income requirements, and wait lists.

But local hospitals, like DeKalb, often support the clinics by offering patients diagnostic testing like MRIs and, if needed, follow up care.

That's because these clinics keep uninsured patients out of the emergency room. So, they save hospitals a lot of money.

"To a a great extent, I think, that is why DeKalb bought into this, the idea that everyone is going to end up in the emergency room," says Dr. Baron. "Emergency room care is a very expensive way to go, whether you're paying for it or someone else is."

For Katie Lyn the care she got here isn't just affordable -- it's a lifesaver.

"This place is like a miracle for people like me," she says.

Physicians' Care is open to DeKalb County residents without health insurance or Medicaid. Patients must apply and meet certain income restrictions.

For more information on the clinic, visit physicianscareclinic.org.

To find a low-cost charity clinic in your area, visit the Georgia Charitable Care Network at charitablecarenetwork.com.