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Orange County

Group Urges More Low-Cost Clinics

Public health: Report by community coalition finds that most of the county's uninsured have little or no access to affordable treatment.

April 27, 2002|JENNIFER MENA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of Orange County community clinics issued a report Friday concluding that most of the county's 600,000 uninsured residents have little or no access to low-cost medical care.

The report is the first salvo in the coalition's efforts to expand a loosely knit group of community clinics that provide free or low-cost medical service. The report indicates that to reach even half of those without health insurance, the clinics would need to more than double their capacity.

The 19 nonprofit clinics, some in tenuous financial shape, treated 135,000 patients in 2001.

The report done by pmpm Consulting Group also showed that the clinics are so spread out in Orange County that many low-income residents must travel for hours to receive nonemergency medical attention. Patients with special needs may not find the care they need in areas such as cardiology and endocrinology.

"What we are hoping is that this study will turn from paper to policy," said Jon Dunn, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in Orange County and president of a task force working on expansion.

While the officials were releasing their findings Friday, Ingrid Escobar was making her way to the Share Our Selves Free Medical and Dental Clinic on Superior Avenue in Costa Mesa. It took three buses and two hours.

Escobar accompanied her father-in-law, who had complained of chest pains while at their home near Euclid Street and Ball Road in Anaheim. Escobar had heard of the Costa Mesa facility from a friend. The father-in-law received X-rays.

"It is a long trip, but it's worth it. When you have the need, you find the way," said Escobar, who works as a housecleaner. Her husband is disabled and the family has no health insurance.

Marty Earlabaugh-Gordon, executive director of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, said she hopes county supervisors will consider the plight of the county's low-income residents and lobby the state for funding.

The study shows that $25 million to $100 million would be needed to improve and build facilities and $25 million to $60 million would be needed each year to keep them running.

So-called Measure H funds, the $5 million annually from a tobacco settlement, "is just a drop in the bucket," Dunn said.

The supervisors did not attend the presentation. But in an interview later, board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad said the county should look into the matter further.

"The belief is very strong that our community clinics are [a] key component ... in Orange County," said Coad, whose term ends in December.

Expanding the clinic system could provide care to people with chronic illnesses who have nowhere to turn other than emergency rooms, where the cost of care is higher.

Investing in clinics could save the county money and should be pursued, Coad said.

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