By Alieta Eck, M.D.:
What is the best way to care for those who are sick and have no funds to pay? Can the government really handle the problem?
For the past 9 years, my husband and I have run a non-government free clinic, the Zarephath Health Center. It has taught us many things about the poor. We have learned that the causes of poverty are as plentiful as the numbers of patients we see. Some are victims of circumstances, poor parenting, or the vices of others. Others have no one to blame but themselves. But they all need encouragement and a kind word.
It is clear that any large government program, no matter how well-intentioned, will have guidelines that fail to address the deeper needs. The Medicaid program must develop bigger and bigger bureaucracies to weed out fraud and abuse, all costing the taxpayers billions of dollars.
It is 5 PM on a Wednesday evening. People are beginning to line up at the door of our free clinic due to open at 7. They strike up conversations, unloading their tales of losing jobs, struggling with homelessness, or wondering where their next meal will come from. Friendly volunteers work the lines, offering a compassionate ear. A clothing and food pantry are right next door and the patients are invited to check them out. There is a certain camaraderie that comes from a common theme. Life is hard.
Once in the exam room, a young woman in her early thirties tells her tale of hardship. She has a job, but is about to lose her apartment. Her husband is in jail for six months for driving while intoxicated. Her cousin has been living in her apartment, using his unemployment check to help with her rent. But the night before, he had collapsed on her living room floor, barely breathing from a heroin overdose. He was rushed to the emergency room.
"How horrible! How is he doing?" we asked. "Oh, he got better. In fact, you will be seeing him next!" Sure enough, her cousin was sitting nervously in the next room. Upon questioning, he denied using drugs but claimed he went to the emergency room with a panic attack. We had the ER report, but it was useless to argue, as lying is a trait firmly established in the drug addict.
Our state narcotics website tells of the controlled substances, the doctor, and the pharmacies utilized by patients. I found that this man had gotten 12 doses of Percocet from different ER doctors on separate occasions. When queried, he stated that he goes to the ER when his teeth are especially painful. He opened his mouth and it was clear that he was telling the truth.
You can imagine his amazement when we invited him back to be the first patient seen by a dentist in our newly configured dental room. A donated chair and equipment had just been set up, and the dentists are ready to volunteer.
Our network of connected charities is designed to step up and meet people where they hurt. These volunteers are simply following the teachings of Jesus. Matthew 25:34-40 tells us that caring for the poor is the same as caring for Him. When we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and care for the sick, we are demonstrating how Christianity changes those who believe.
Caring is local. Caring is personal. People in trouble need someone to come along side. Henry Raymond, founder of the New York Times, stated in the 1840s that the way to fight poverty was through "personal reform of individual men." Government welfare programs tend to trap people in poverty so that they have every incentive to remain on the government dole. People on Medicaid feel alone, disenchanted, hopeless, and angry.
The Zarephath Health Center volunteers will do everything they can so that these two patients will get the help and support that they need to become independent and successful. This is real charity, and it costs the taxpayers nothing.
Dr. Alieta Eck, M.D., President of AAPS, graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in NJ and the St. Louis School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. She studied Internal Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ and has been in private practice with her husband, Dr. John Eck, MD in Piscataway, NJ since 1988. She has been involved in health care reform since residency and is convinced that the government is a poor provider of medical care. She testified before the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in 2004 about better ways to deliver health care in the United States. In 2003, she and her husband founded the Zarephath Health Center, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured that currently cares for 300-400 patients per month utilizing the donated services of volunteer physicians and nurses.