A group of clinics dedicated to low-income families and the uninsured is quietly lifting some of the burden from Oklahoma's strained emergency rooms and doctors.
More than 50,000 people received health care last year from Variety Care Family Health. Soon, three new building projects will accommodate more patients.
“That will allow us to expand access to about 15,000 more patients,” said Lou Carmichael, executive director.
“We'll be very happy when those are finished about midyear 2012,” she said.
Variety Care includes 13 full and part-time locations in the Oklahoma City metro. The nonprofit also operates rural health center locations in Fort Cobb, Tipton and Grandfield.
“It's not even a dent in terms of the uninsured and really the underserved,” Carmichael said.
Both uninsured and insured patients visit the health centers. Variety Care provides health care services, on a sliding scale starting around $25, for all family members, regardless of age, medical history, immigration status or insurance coverage.
The clinics keep the average cost per patient per year at $493. That compares with a nationwide average of about $9,000, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. Even one emergency room visit can exceed $2,500.
Variety Care focuses on prevention and wellness, Carmichael said.
‘They caught it early'
Tony Weatherington, 39, of Oklahoma City, says Variety Care had made a huge difference in his life.
“I lost my father when he was only 59 years old. My family was unaware of his high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We caught it too late,” he said.
Those conditions are hereditary. Weatherington was encouraged to check those factors and found out he, too, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and also diabetes. Variety Care put together a medication plan for him.
“I get all my care from one team. I'm blessed that they caught it early,” Weatherington said.
Another patient said the team's pediatricians helped her son with diet and exercise. She said he is now more active and reaches for a smoothie rather than a sugary soft drink. The teen has lost 10 pounds.
Excited about growth
Carmichael said she's excited that thousands more patients will be able to get care through the expanded clinics.
The two largest health centers, Straka and Lafayette in Oklahoma City, are under expansion and renovation. Also, the Lafayette pediatric care center will add dental and behavioral health services for children.
In 2009, Variety Care opened a new health center at 4023 NW 10 St. that features medical, dental and behavioral care, as well as X-ray and laboratory services. Last year, a rural health center opened in Grandfield in southwest Oklahoma.
Variety Care is a 501 C3 nonprofit. In addition to a federal grant that amounted to about $2.5 million this year, funding comes from United Way and individual donations. The clinics also bill Medicare and Medicaid for services.
The Variety Care Foundation is completing an $18 million capital campaign to finance expansions at Straka and Lafayette, along with construction of a new administration building.