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March 4, 1997

Franklin Health Centers

by Joanna Greene

Whenever the time comes to receive medical care, typically the first question asked of patients is: "What type of insurance do you have?" For those lacking health insurance, the trail of difficulties only begins there.

Though health insurance is virtually a must for receiving quality medical care, there are places where the uninsured can go. The Franklin Memorial Primary Health Center Incorporated is a group of non-profit clinics around Mobile that strive to provide quality, accessible and affordable health care to those who need help.

Six community health centers -- the Martin Luther King Center, the Prichard Center, the Aiello-Buskey Center, the Women and Children's Center, the Maysville Medical Center and the H. E. Savage Memorial Center -- provide comprehensive health care for both the insured and the uninsured.

The clinics operate as non-profit corporations with a 15-member board of directors and am advisory board consisting of center users and community members. Funding comes from federal grants, Medicaid, and Medicare. Charitable donations from individuals, companies or organizations are also a source of funding varying from clinic to clinic. Daily operations are run by paid staffs of physicians, nurse practitioners, health educators and social workers.

For patients with health insurance, or 100 percent paying patients, medical- care costs are covered by personal health insurance companies. Others -- the uninsured, the homeless, or the working poor -- are billed according to CSA poverty guidelines and a sliding-fee scale.

In order for patients to receive medical care, they must provide some proof of income, such as a paycheck stub or a food stamp card with a posted salary. The clinics compare income amounts with a sliding-fee scale, take into consideration the patient's family size, and bill them accordingly, says Charles White, Chief Executive Officer for the Franklin Memorial Primary Health Centers.

Patients can receive physician's care, lab services, social services, health education and preventive care at all six clinic sites.

The clinics also offer substance-abuse services, treatment and counseling, on-site educators and support groups for infectious-disease patients, and on- site certified social workers to show patients the types of social benefits available to them such as Medicaid or food stamps

An elder care program at the Maysville Medical Center provides "wellness care" for senior citizens. An on-site exercise coordinator heads up exercise classes and activities. Nutritionists, rheumatologists and health educators are on staff to provide the elderly with helpful information on pharmaceuticals and health conditions such as arthritis.

Immunizations are available at the three pediatric sites: Women and Children's Center, Aiello-Buskey Center and the Maysville Center. The Prichard Center houses the on-site pharmacy where all Franklin Memorial Health Center patients are referred for prescribed medication.

The H.E. Savage Memorial Clinic on Dauphin Street provides health care for the homeless. Program Director of Health Care for the Homeless Lyn Manz-Walters says the homeless "aren't just the ones living under a bridge or in the streets. They may be residents in a transitional home or shelter such as the Waterfront Rescue Mission or Penelope House that are trying to make a reintegration into society."

The Clinic was established in 1992 and operates on grants and donations from the federal government, private individuals and organizations. "We accept donations from everybody and we accept just about everything," says Walters.

Primary health care services, including medical screenings, physician and/or nurse treatment, dental care, eye care, immunizations, and others, are offered. Social work services such as mental health and substance abuse assessments and referrals are available as well.

A van is used for transportation assistance to and from other Franklin Centers. Prescriptions are picked up by the van and delivered to the Clinic to be given to homeless patients.

"We never turn anyone away," says Walters. "If someone comes in, we ask them to sign in and fill out the basic records. We then take down a patient's medical history to determine whether or not he or she needs treatment and what type is needed. If it's not serious -- for example, if it's just a cold -- we give them an appointment and a 'cold pack' with Tylenol, cough drops and cough medicines. If it more serious, say if the patient is complaining of chest pains, or if they are running a fever, we get them in the labs right away."

On staff at the H.E. Savage clinic is a certified registered nurse practitioner, a prescribing practitioner, a licensed social worker, and plenty of volunteers. "Everyone here is so very passionate. From the medical clerk to the RN, I have seen such random acts of kindness," says Walters. "The staff here is made up of good people, by their professions and beyond what their paychecks could ever require," Walters continued. "Too often the homeless are treated with inhuman disrespect by fate or by persons in power. Here, they are called 'sir' and 'ma'am' and treated with all the dignity we could ever offer."

Walters emphasized that "[w]e do not teach dependency. We teach people to help themselves or to get to a place where they can help themselves."

"We have great hopes for expanding what we do," says Walters. If you would like more information on Healthcare for the Homeless or any of the other Franklin Memorial Health Centers call (334) 434-8177. To reach the H.E. Savage Clinic to offer a donation or for more information call (334) 694-1801.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL