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July 27, 2009

My Turn: Health coverage is an urgent need

This week's "My turn" column is by Dr. Ben Friedell, medical director of the Oneonta Community Health Center and family physician at Oneonta Family Practice.

Thursday, July 30, marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of a free medical clinic for uninsured adults in the Oneonta area.

The Oneonta Community Health Center was created by a group of concerned citizens in response to the human tragedy of our friends and neighbors suffering from a lack of medical care because they do not have health insurance.

Since the opening of the center, we have been seeing from six-to-12 patients every Tuesday evening. Our experience has mirrored that of other free clinics around the country: We see people with both chronic and acute medical problems who have no insurance and cannot afford to be seen by a primary care physician.

These are adults who are self-employed, unemployed, between jobs, part-time workers or work for a small business that does not provide affordable health insurance as an employee benefit.

Contrary to what some believe, these are not wealthy people who choose not to purchase health insurance, nor are they shiftless slackers who do not want to work.

In my time at the clinic, I have seen a nurse's aide with severe asthma; an unemployed chef with an uncontrolled thyroid problem; and a hotel worker with limited vision from cataracts. These patients would not have otherwise received care, and they have been profoundly grateful for our services.

The OCHC exists because of the generous donation of services by many volunteers: medical providers (physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants); nurses; receptionists; screeners who review the patients' incomes to see if they are eligible for our services; members of the board of directors of our nonprofit corporation; Fox and Bassett hospitals; the building owner who donates the space for our clinic; and many others, right down to the woman who cleans our facility.

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