Shepherd’s Clinic still providing comprehensive health and wellness care for Baltimore’s uninsured despite Affordable Care Act
Fighting back against key health issues in Baltimore takes a multifaceted approach and a welcoming team to make a difference. For many patients, Shepherd’s Clinic in East Baltimore Midway provides all the needed parts, and was there to support them when the Affordable Care Act turned out to not be affordable.
Shepherd’s Clinic is a volunteer-run clinic that served over 1,000 uninsured patients last year. Despite the good intentions of the Affordable Care Act, more than 100 of those patients have lost their health insurance since spring 2014 and returned to the clinic for primary care. It’s an alarming trend, as many of these patients have long-term health needs that could be deadly without proper health care.
“Within a few short months of being enrolled in qualified health plans, newly-insured patients began to struggle mightily to keep up with their health care expenses, and as a result stopped coming to the doctor,” says Shepherd’s Clinic executive director Glenda Skuletich. “Even patients who are insured have been known to put off potentially life-saving stress tests because their plan’s high deductible would mean a $3,000 bill.”
Shepherd’s makes sure patients have the care they need through free visits with primary care physicians and cardiologists, nutrition and diabetes counseling, diagnostic care and low-cost medications. Patients in need of specialty diagnostics or hospital-based services are referred to Shepherd’s longtime partner, MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, where they are seen free of charge through a charity care arrangement. But that isn’t where it stops: Shepherd’s patients also have opportunity to fight back against heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and stress through nutrition, exercise and meditative programming at the clinic’s attached Joy Wellness Center.
“I know what I have to do, but I have to apply it. In coming here, it’s easier to apply it,” says one patient. “This is a much better support group.”
Kerry Martinez, program director of Joy Wellness Center, has 20 years of experience in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise education. She runs programs likes Get Heart Smart, a five-week class that covers how the heart works, how to manage risk factors and eating for heart health. In classes like these, patients have the time to talk one-on-one or in small groups with certified instructors and experts to get personal answers, and true understanding of their own situation.
“We make sure all these programs are conveying the same messages overall to the patients: ‘You can change your life,’” Martinez says. “You don’t see that everywhere, and certainly not in the hospital if a person doesn’t have insurance or is not able to make outpatient program copays.”
“They take so many people from such a large portion of the city, and it’s not even all their patients. It’s great.” one patient says. Until insurance becomes accessible for everyone, Shepherd’s Clinic will continue to offer clinical and wellness care, and will work toward better health for a better Baltimore.