July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Help for the uninsured


Staff Writer

MEDINA — If it wasn’t for a local free clinic, Dennis Matyas may not have a hand, let alone his life.

Matyas, 57, a Brunswick resident who is a cook at Stonebrook Golf Academy in Middleburg Heights, acquired a staph infection in his hand last year, but didn’t have health insurance to treat it.

“I could’ve lost my hand. The pills they gave me would’ve cost $16,000. I couldn’t handle that,” he said.

So Matyas went to the Medina Health Ministry Free Clinic started by Dr. Kim Bowen, director of the emergency room at Medina General Hospital, and other doctors.

The clinic, located inside the Salvation Army, 425 W. Liberty St., opened in 2003, but Bowen said he was wary about publicizing it then because he didn’t want to have an influx of patients without enough doctors to help, and he didn’t want to deplete resources.

The clinic now has about seven doctors who volunteer as well as 20 to 25 consultants who help out, Bowen said, adding he hopes to get more doctors involved.

Because of volunteers like Bowen, Matyas, who has been going to the clinic for three years after losing his previous job and his insurance, was able to get the treatment he needed, with only a $5 fee for medications.

Dr. Kim Bowen, director of the emergency room at Medina General Hospital, and other doctors created the Medina Health Ministry Free Clinic in 2003. About seven doctors and 20 to 25 consultants provide health care for people who don’t have health insurance and meet certain requirements.(Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)

“If I hadn’t gone there, I’d be feeding the bugs and worms right now,” he said. “They helped me a lot for whatever problems I had. I was in bad shape before I went there.”

He added: “Dr. Bowen took care of me. I recommend it to anybody that doesn’t have insurance. I was treated real nice there. Everybody was real friendly.”

Those eligible for care at the clinic have to be 200 percent below the poverty level, live in Medina County and have a job as well as pay taxes, Bowen said.

To put it in perspective, a single person would have to make roughly $21,000 a year, while a four-person family would have to make around $43,000, he said.

Bowen also started a free clinic in Parma, which opened in 2005.

Inspiration for the free clinics came from Bowen’s earlier work in Cleveland as the director of the emergency room at St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

“I used to see people on public assistance getting better care than the people that don’t have insurance but are paying taxes and working,” he said. “I just thought that was terribly wrong.”

His first patient at the Parma clinic was considered clinically depressed and was given a prescription for antidepressants by a psychiatrist, which he showed to Bowen. The man, however, hadn’t had a checkup in years, Bowen said.

“We ended up finding a lump on his thyroid,” he said. “He had thyroid cancer, which is why he was depressed.”

Bowen arranged for treatment of the cancer and now the man is cancer-free and didn’t have to sell his small bungalow or be up to his ears in debt with a bill that would’ve been more than $120,000 total, Bowen said.

In Medina, Bowen recalled a construction worker who needed a hip replacement last year for which the prosthetic hip alone cost $10,000.

However, he was able to have it done for free, keep his job and get back to work as soon as he was able, Bowen said, adding this is not a one-person clinic, but truly operated by many people volunteering their time.

The people range from grant writers, accountants and pharmacists to doctors and nurses, as well as the Salvation Army donating space in its building for the two-room clinic.

“It’s literally a community taking care of itself,” he said. “I love the project. I really believe in it. We are so lucky because of the people involved in this community.”

The clinic operates on grants, local and federal, as well as fundraisers and donations, Bowen said.

He added the clinic ran on $30,000 last year, but provided roughly $700,000 in care.

“If you give us a dollar to use, we multiply it,” he said.

Bowen said when people think of free clinics, they tend to think of downtown metro clinics where people are standing in line and it’s more impersonal, but Medina Health Ministry is anything but impersonal.

“We try to sit down, talk to (patients), and get to know them. They can even request certain doctors,” he said. “We try to make it very personal here, more like a regular doctor’s office. I’m kinda conservative … and operate it like an HMO.”

However, unlike a regular doctor’s office, the clinic operates at irregular hours, Bowen said, adding the doctors work around their regular shifts.

In addition, Bowen said some doctors are retired, or are only able to volunteer a couple times a year, but he’ll take whatever he can get.

“Doctors today are earning less than they ever have before and doing more paperwork than ever before, so it’s hard to ask them to do more … for free and miss their kids’ basketball game,” he said. “I know. I’m a dad, too.”

Bowen said it’s his belief in this project and knowing how many people need care that fuels his dedication.

Also, any doctors who volunteer at the clinic don’t have to worry about malpractice nor do they have to worry about paperwork.

“You just do your thing as a physician,” he said. “I can act naturally and just be a doc and care for patients.”

While the clinic does cover all volunteers with malpractice insurance, Bowen said if you work for a free clinic in Ohio, you cannot be sued, but the insurance is there in case a lawyer is unaware of this and makes a claim anyway.

Medina Health Ministry takes walk-ins, but Bowen said an appointment is best. Also, for those who want to get involved, there will be a fundraiser from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Eagles pavilion, 696 Lafayette Road.

Tickets for the fundraiser, a pig and turkey roast with an auction and raffle, are $30 per person, Bowen said. Dinner will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. For tickets, call 330-764-9300.

Shofar may be reached at 330-721-4044 or cshofar@ohio.net.