Local clinic prospering but in need of help
by Staff Writer
by Will Bryant
When Trevor Aron, 64, immigrated to the United States from South Africa, he never thought he would have to worry about medical bills or insurance ever gain. This is America, he thought – why worry about receiving medical treatment in the most advanced country in the world?
Then, in 2003, Aron lost his job when Pillowtex in Kannapolis shut down. Not long after, he lost his good health.
In 2004, Aron was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure.
Suddenly, Aron found himself out of a job, with no medical coverage.
“I couldn’t get any insurance because I wasn’t employed,” Aron said. “I couldn’t afford the insurance.”
Then a friend Aron knew from church recommended he go to the Lake Norman Community Health Clinic. The agency is celebrating its 10 anniversary this month.
“I have never had better treatment in my life. I wish everyone could get treatment like that,” Aron said.
Aron’s story is a familiar one in the area, and also in the state of North Carolina.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there were than 1.5 million people in North Carolina living without health insurance in 2010, making N.C. the state with the 12th highest number of uninsured residents in the country.
Demand at all time high, funding still in question
This September, the Lake Norman Community Health Clinic is celebrating its 10-year anniversary taking care of the uninsured. Starting in the back of a grocery store, the community health clinic has become a staple for the uninsured throughout the region.
“When we first started, it was in the back of a Hispanic grocery store on Old Statesville road,” said Chairman of the clinic, April Cook. It started out once a month, and then it got to every other week. And then it grew so big that other churches found out about what we were doing and wanted to help, Cook said.
After giving treatment every Wednesday night at the grocery store, the clinic officially moved its location to the basement of the Huntersville Baptist Church. In 2007, because of its growing number of patients, the clinic moved to its current location at 14230 Hunters Road in Huntersville.
In bad economic times, the Lake Norman clinic is doing the unthinkable: offering medical care at no cost.
“We don’t charge people but we do ask for donations,” Cook said. “If they can’t afford it, then that’s ok. We still see them and their medical care is free.”
According to its annual report, the clinic had nearly 2098 patient visits in 2009. In 2010, the number of visits doubled to nearly 4,800 visits.
The free clinic is made possible because of a combination of state grants and community involvement. The clinic offers primary health care, orthopedics, podiatry, women’s clinical care, diabetic counseling, nutrition classes, and physical therapy.
Volunteers make up 95 percent of the workforce, including 50 physicians and over 100 office workers that put in time when they can, according to their 2010 annual report.
“When we first started out it was 100 percent volunteers,” Cook said. “People really wanted to change lives and make a difference. We have some of the same volunteers that we had 10 years ago.”
Cook says the clinic also provides a community service by giving students from Davidson College, Queens College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte an opportunity to learn more about working in the medical field.
Other than the work of its volunteers, the clinic is also driven by a large state grant that has provided them with $116,500 a year since 2010. The grant primarily covers the salaries of the clinic’s six paid staff members.
However, the grant is due to expire at the end of this year, and Cook fears that their grant might not be renewed. Without those critical funds, Cook worries that they may have to scale down their operation, leaving thousands in the area with less access to medical care.
“If we can’t find the support from the community to make up the difference, we may very well have to go back to a one-night-a-week operation,” Cook said. “That means that we won’t see two-thirds of the population that we are seeing now.”
So now, the clinic is asking for a favor.
“We need others to come in, whether they are individuals who will pledge an amount every year, or other churches that will write us into their budget,” Cook said.
“We’ve always felt strongly that this is in organization for the community, supported by the community.”
For more information about donating time or money to the Lake Norman Community Health Clinic, call 704-947-6858.