The Pine Ridge Family Health Center will provide care to low-income Topekans
It’s difficult for many Americans to imagine missing a child’s doctor’s appointment or failing to address an urgent medical issue because there’s no way to get to the clinic. But for low-income families, a lack of transportation is one of the largest obstacles to health care access. While the cost of health care is a heavy burden for most people, low-income Americans often forego trips to the doctor or hospital altogether for fear of the devastating economic consequences they might face. This leaves serious health problems untreated and can lead to even higher costs later on.
The Pine Ridge Family Health Center opened on Nov. 7, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week. The new clinic will provide health services to residents of Pine Ridge Manor – the largest public housing site operated by the Topeka Housing Authority. This is a part of our community where the cost of health care – as well as related issues like paying for transportation to clinics and hospitals – can be debilitating. By establishing a primary care clinic in the area, THA has given the residents of Pine Ridge Manor immediate access to vital health services.
Washburn University’s School of Nursing is providing medical staff for the clinic. Shirley Dinkel is a professor at the School of Nursing, and she explains how the clinic will help low-income Topekans: “Now we have a true community and academic partnership that’s co-creating a new culture of health for the people who live here.”
There’s a reason why Dinkel used the words “culture of health.” Rickquette Eason is the president of the THA resident council, and she has been getting feedback from her fellow residents about “what was most important to them, what kind of clinic they wanted.” According to Eason, the “issue of trusting” is a factor that prevents her neighbors from seeking care. Considering the costly and unnerving issues low-income patients face (a lack of medical insurance, disproportionately high rates of ER visits, etc.), this is no surprise.
Trey George is the executive director of THA, and he identifies the main problem faced by many low-income Americans: “So many of our families, they don’t have a primary care physician, so when they get sick, they go to the emergency department.” This ends up costing far more than the preventive care they could have received at a primary clinic. A 2015 FAIR Health survey found that people with lower levels of education, members of minority groups (particularly African-Americans and Hispanics) and those in low-income brackets were all far “more likely to rely on the ER for nonemergency care” than the rest of the population.
The racial gaps in health care access are particularly stark. A study published in the journal Health Services Research in 2012 reports that 13.2 percent of white Americans live in “zip codes with few or no primary-care physicians” – a proportion that rises to 24.3 percent for Hispanics and 25.6 percent for blacks.
According to a January 2014 report commissioned by Shawnee County, there are 21,000 uninsured residents in our county and 16,000 of them have “unmet primary care need” – a need that’s concentrated in areas like Pine Ridge Manor. THA and Washburn University deserve credit for working to address this disparity by providing care to members of our community who need it most.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.