CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED: Survey will tell is clinic's scope needs expansion

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

When the Free Clinic was established in Tupelo almost five years ago, it was predicted that as many as 11,000 Lee County residents would be eligible for its health services.

But after half a decade, only about 3,500 have taken advantage of the clinic's free offerings, meaning many more are out there who could benefit from the services, particularly young people.

For that reason, about 6,000 copies of a survey will be sent home with Tupelo and Lee County students to be filled out by the parents and returned in the next few weeks. The purpose is to determine if a need exists for expanded service by the clinic to children 17 years and younger in families of the working poor.

Working with a $10,000 grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Free Clinic is studying whether it should expand service into other communities or expand service at its location in Tupelo and what the needs are in the community.

"We found three problems right off the bat," Dr. Ed Ivancic, a pediatrician who volunteers time at the Free Clinic, told members of the Lee County school board recently.

"The first is that kids don't get sick just on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the clinic is open," Ivancic said. "And kids with chronic problems such as asthma need the consistent care of a physician, not a different physician each time they visit. ... There are often problems with transportation when the parents can't get off work or live in other places in Lee County."

Cindy Sparks, director of the clinic, said the current study, to be completed in late November, is part of a program sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics known as CATCH Kids, an acronym for Community Access to Child Health.

The impetus for the new project was a push by North Mississippi Health Services Foundation, which helps fund the clinic, to improve the health of youth under the age of 17.

"We were wondering if there was some way we could look at doing an outreach program to make sure that all the children who meet Free Clinic guidelines get help," Sparks said.

To qualify, parents must be working or unemployed less than three months and actively looking for work who are not eligible for Medicaid and have no health insurance or other health benefits. They must meet certain income requirements and live in Lee County.

In addition to working with the schools, Free Clinic personnel also have met with numerous governmental and ministerial groups.

"We met with several of the different agencies to make people aware of what we were studying and to gather input into what kind of health care our children need and where is the best place to provide that care," Sparks said.

When the survey results are evaluated in a report to the American Academy of Pediatrics due by Nov. 30 under the terms of the grant, Sparks said the real work will begin, probably around the first of the year.

"If we decide there is a need, then we have to determine how to go about meeting that need and find a way to fund it," she said. "We feel like the community is so giving that it will see the importance of children getting the proper health care and help us with that."

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