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The Chaffee People’s Clinic

Article by Jennifer Dempsey

Health Care – February 2009 – Colorado Central Magazine

PAT DULETSKY wouldn’t see Michael Moore’s movie Sicko.

“I was afraid I would break something,” said the Buena Vista physician and volunteer medical advisor of the Chaffee People’s Clinic. “So much of that movie was about stuff I have been incensed about for years. I remember before I was in medical school, hearing somebody say his insurance company would arbitrarily deny every tenth client and see if anybody would challenge it. It was standard operating procedure in his company. Apparently the company saved enough money that way that it was worthwhile.”

Instead of sitting and stewing about the injustices in the health care system, Duletsky got busy. She became a champion of public health in Summit County by helping establish the Summit Community Care Clinic. After relocating to Chaffee County in 2003, she joined a family practice in Buena Vista and since 2006 has been medical advisor of the Chaffee People’s Clinic.

The Chaffee People’s Clinic opened its doors in October 2006 in order to increase access to health care for people with low income and no health insurance who live and work in Chaffee County. Depending on income and size of family, patients pay between $3 to $20 a visit. CPC patients can also receive financial assistance for medications and discounted lab work from the hospital.

Marilyn Bouldin checks in Berry Bergstrom and Destiny Meseke at the Chaffee People's Clinic.
Marilyn Bouldin checks in Berry Bergstrom and Destiny Meseke at the Chaffee People's Clinic.

Operating on an annual budget of $180,000, the Clinic is staffed by one part-time nurse practitioner, a part-time registered nurse, part-time business manager, office volunteers and a volunteer medical advisor. This year, the Clinic plans to hire a full-time Executive Director. The Clinic is funded by the Colorado Trust, the Colorado Health Foundation, Colorado Rural Health Center, Chaffee County Government, donations and patients fees. Operating from sites in Salida and Buena Vista, the People’s Clinic has served more than 700 patients since it opened.

The Clinic has found that two-thirds of its patients who use the clinic previously received no health care or went to the emergency room for care. These patients have had higher rates of chronic health problems because they delayed or didn’t receive care for chronic health conditions.

“We really want people to be seen,” said Marilyn Bouldin, recently retired Director of Public Health in Chaffee County and the Clinic’s board secretary. “So many of our patients have not had any recent health care, and that means that their chronic diseases such as diabetes, are out of control. It’s much cheaper and easier to prevent complications from a chronic disease than treat it. I really believe lack of prevention is a big part of our health care crisis.”

She continued: “We are available to anyone who needs it. Everybody knows somebody who doesn’t have health insurance. This week a young adult came in with his mother and he was really sick. Afterwards the mother said ‘I am so grateful you’re here. I don’t know what we would have done.’ That’s what keeps you motivated to do the work to keep it going.”

JANET LASTOVICA has been President of the Board for the People’s Clinic since November 2007.

A retired nurse consultant for women’s substance abuse treatment, Lastovica said the passion and dedication of the clinic’s board and staff members is truly inspiring.

“Advocating for services to meet the needs of many of our clients is a real piece of their care,” Lastovica said. “Health care in the county wasn’t working for the 417 individuals who accessed our services in 2007, the first full year of operation. These findings are not unique to the area and are reflective of findings across the country.”

Susan Bristol is coordinator for Build a Generation and the Clinic’s treasurer since 2006. “When we had the opportunity to get a planning grant I was interested from the very start,” she said. “[My work with] Build a Generation showed me how access to health care here is very lacking and very expensive. We have received many great grants but are always a little behind. Our need grows faster than our income.”

Board member and retired Salida physician Bill Mehos said, “Try going without a CT scan when your neighbor got one. People expect all the modern diagnostic treatment and they should have it. But one in seven Americans don’t have insurance or are underinsured. There is a real need for the People’s Clinic. Good medical services are obtainable there with sincere caregivers and people whose passion is to help the uninsured and medically indigent.”

Before becoming the Clinic’s director and nurse practitioner, Jane Gilden worked for 25 years at the Denver Health Medical Clinic with low income, uninsured patients. During that time she worked with AIDS patients and also at the Stout Street Homeless Clinic.

“Taking care of the little guy is where my heart and soul are,” she said. “I think every person deserves quality health care. In our economically strained world, a lot of us are one step ahead of not having health insurance.”

GILDEN SAID ONE of the biggest obstacles for the People’s Clinic is securing specialty care for patients. “This is not just a hurdle for the CPC but in big clinics on the Front Range as well,” she said. “Although CPC provides excellent care, sometimes a patient needs to be evaluated by a specialist. This is usually very costly and patients are not able to see the specialist due to lack of funds. Clearly we need to have a universal health care policy. Health care is a right, not a privilege.”

The two locations of the Chaffee People’s Clinic are 334 Grand Avenue, Salida and 114 Linderman Avenue, Buena Vista. Clinic hours in Salida are Mondays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Hours in Buena Vista are Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Clinic is currently looking for volunteer health care providers, as well as other volunteers.

“Anything from snow shoveling, to remodeling to office work is needed,” Bouldin said. “We couldn’t survive without volunteers.”

Jennifer Dempsey is a freelance writer and director of the Salida Circus.