As executive director of Clinica Colorado, a nonprofit low-cost health clinic, Jill Schneider spends every day assisting Westminster’s uninsured residents as they seek healthcare. “In our …
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As executive director of Clinica Colorado, a nonprofit low-cost health clinic, Jill Schneider spends every day assisting Westminster’s uninsured residents as they seek healthcare.
“In our community, there are a lot of working poor,” she said. “It’s really hard for a family to make it around here, especially with the high cost of housing. A lot of folks we see are below the federal poverty level.”
Clinica Colorado is one of dozens of safety-net clinics in the state that offer healthcare at a discounted rate. Patients pay a sliding-fee scale, ranging from $20 to $45 per appointment, Schneider said.
While Clinica Colorado primarily works with the uninsured, safety-net clinics across the country can serve the uninsured, patients with Medicaid, or both. Some are considered Federally Qualified Health Centers, enabling them to receive federal funding. Others, like Clinica Colorado, primarily receive funding through donations.
Beyond the reduced cost, these safety-net clinics provide many benefits for low-income Coloradans, said Jeff Bontrager, evaluation and research director at the Colorado Health Institute, a Denver-based research group that specializes in health care policy and medical trends.
“They provide high-quality care, they provide more culturally competent care within someone’s own language,” he said, “and then they provide care to those who are uninsured or have Medicaid when many others will not take them.”
Growing client base sparks move to larger space
According to the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey, 6.5 percent of Coloradans, or about 350,000 people, are uninsured. This number has dropped since 2011, when 15.8 percent of Coloradans, or about 829,000 people, did not have access to health insurance.
Bontrager said it is difficult to predict how the rate will change in the future.
“As the economy improves, more people are getting higher wages and finding employment, and they find themselves ineligible for Medicaid,” he said.
These people may gain access to new health insurance through their employers; however, if they do not, Colorado may see its rate of uninsured residents go up, Bontrager said. This fact, coupled with the state’s population growth, has sparked a growing number of safety-net clinics to set up across the state.
To accommodate its increasing client base, Clinica Colorado has moved from its previous building to a larger location at 8300 Alcott St. in Suite 300. The new locale, which has four additional exam rooms, will allow the clinic’s 15 staff members to see 40 more patients every year.
Tight budgets spur innovations
The change comes at a time when more patients are hearing about the clinic, either through other nonprofits or from friends and family members.
“People talk about how their family member came here, their grandmother came here, they brought their mom here, things like that,” Schneider said. “It’s a lot of word of mouth.”
As more patients visit the clinic, Schneider said she and her team are spending extra time planning how they will use their funds to best serve their community.
“Funding is limited, and they often have to do more with less in terms of their budgets,” Bontrager said of the clinics. “A lot are doing really innovative things.”
For Clinica Colorado, this innovation comes in the form of adding types of specialty care to the primary care already offered.
“We started doing some echocardiograms on site, and we’re hoping in January to start a retinology program,” Schneider said. “We have a high incidence of diabetes in our practice, so one of the ways to monitor that is the eye scans.”
By offering eye care in conjunction with primary-care appointments, Schneider hopes to eliminate some of the “challenges and barriers” that patients face when seeking this care.
“Right now, we usually refer people elsewhere for (eye care), and a lot of our patients feel uncomfortable going somewhere else,” she said. “Or they don’t take the time because of work or transportation.”
The clinic is currently acquiring the necessary equipment and training staff members for the eye care program. Schneider sees this new addition as an exciting new way to meet a need in the community that has not yet been addressed.
“I know there are other clinics around that have dental on site, but no one has optics on site,” she said, “so I think that could be something we’re doing that might be pretty unique.”
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