By Mary A. Williams, MSEd, CPE
Imagine that you are a young woman working two part-time jobs to make ends meet, neither of which provide medical insurance. You have been experiencing severe abdominal pains for weeks, but you don’t have any extra money for a visit to the doctor because your rent is due.
What decision would you make? Would you spend money that you don’t have on a doctor’s visit in hopes of finding relief to the pain and risk the possibility of not having a roof over your head? Would you suffer for the next few weeks or months until you can save enough money for a visit at a private OB/GYN office? Even worse, what if you went to an emergency room only to be told that your issue isn’t an emergency and that you should find a primary care provider?
These are just a few scenarios that women who are uninsured could face when seeking healthcare. “These realities are far removed for many of us who have private insurance, said Dr. Geroldean Dyse, Chief Executive Officer at Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. “But there are many people in our neighborhoods who face situations similar to these instances on a daily basis.” “While the Affordable Care Act has allowed many individuals the opportunity to purchase medical insurance, many of our friends and families are unable to afford the monthly premiums.” “It creates a real problem for patients, and some fall through the cracks,” Dyse said.
Healthcare can be likened to a spare tire on your car. We don’t often think about it until we need it. “Unfortunately many of us have been conditioned to only visit the doctor when we are sick, either out of necessity or a simple lack of knowledge,” said Dr. Dyse. “But there are many health issues that could be avoided with just a touch of preventive healthcare.”
Community health center model of care
The Women’s Health Center, a unit of Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative Inc., takes the challenge of caring for the uninsured and underinsured seriously. “We want to let people know that our mission is to provide access to affordable, quality primary and preventive healthcare to our communities in a patient-centered, safe, compassionate environment,” said Dr. Dyse. With a care team comprised of a gynecologist, a women’s health nurse practitioner, a translator, a RN nurse manager, and a team of nurses, this health center takes a unique approach to healthcare.
The community health center model of care got its start in North Mississippi in Mound Bayou in 1965. Dr. H. Jack Geiger and community health and civil right activists witnessed the success of how a community-based healthcare model drastically improved health outcomes in South Africa for its poorest citizens. In conjunction with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives in the 1960s, a proposal was submitted to the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity to establish health centers in medically underserved areas and the rural areas of the country.
Community health centers like the Women’s Health Center are uniquely positioned to tackle the complex health needs of low-income patients and the medically underserved. Many patients face financial barriers, transportation barriers, and even language barriers when they try to access healthcare. The Women’s Health Center has a full-time translator on-staff to assist with translation for Spanish speaking patients. According to the US Census, Hispanics comprise 3.1 percent of Mississippi’s population. They also have a language line which assists with dialects and other languages not spoken by the translator.
The Women’s Health Center offers a full range of OB/GYN services, prenatal care, birth control, pap smears, breast and pelvic exams, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, cryosurgery, and colposcopy. They provide an adjusted fee method of payment called the “sliding scale” for women without health insurance. Simply put, if a woman does not have health insurance or is underinsured, she can use her income, household size, and a few other qualifications to receive a discounted office visit. Office visits at the Women’s Health Center for patients on the “sliding scale” begin at $40.00.
Reducing health disparities through community outreach
Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. is consistently looking for new ways to reach patients who are uninsured or underinsured. Dr. Dyse said that community health centers are deeply rooted in outreach and community partnerships that help reduce health disparities. “Next month, we will host our annual “Free Check-up Day” on Wednesday, May 17 in observance of National Women’s Health Week.” National Women’s Health Week is about equipping and empowering women across the nation to make their health a priority. “We provide free preventive screenings as a way to give back to our patients including body mass index, clinical breast exams, cholesterol, dental screenings, hemoglobin, and HIV testing.” Every participant will receive a free gift bag, compliments of the Women’s Health Center.
Multiple locations in the Pine Belt
The Women’s Health Center is one of seventeen health centers that comprise Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. SeMRHI has clinics in Hattiesburg, Brooklyn, Lumberton, Picayune, Seminary, Sumrall, New Augusta, Beaumont, and Petal. They also have an in-house pharmacy as well as partnerships with local pharmacies in cities outside of Hattiesburg to provide their patients with low-cost medications. In addition to their pharmacy, they operate a special program called the prescription assistance program that allows patients to receive a three-month supply of certain medications at a discounted price.
“Whether through primary care services, specialty care services, or our pharmacy services, our main goal at SeMRHI is to provide people with the healthcare and resources they need,” said Dr. Dyse. “We take the health of our communities as our personal responsibility.”
For more information about the Women’s Health Center or Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. please call 601-545-8700 or visit their website at www.semrhi.com.
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