The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center Highlights Services to the Uninsured
March 10 through 16 marks “Cover the Uninsured Week,” sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians. With over 20 percent of the Texas population uninsured — one of the highest rates per capita in the nation — countless others underinsured and the numbers growing, The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center continues to do its part to provide service for this group.
“One of the abiding issues in this nation has been our inability to provide coverage for healthcare for a number — a large number — of Americans,” said Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., president of The Texas A&M System Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs for the A&M System. “The academic health centers across the nation both provide a safety net and contribute to policy discussions that might permanently resolve the problem.”
In the course of their training, students in the A&M System Health Science Center College of Medicine care for uninsured patients at affiliate teaching hospitals at Scott & White and the Central Texas Veterans’ Health Care System in Temple; Driscoll Children?s Hospital in Corpus Christi; Darnall Army Community Hospital at Foot Hood; St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan; and College Station Medical Center. Students at Baylor College of Dentistry provide low-cost or free dental care for qualifying adults and children at their clinics, including mobile facilities, in Dallas. Faculty and residents at the Brazos Valley Family Medicine Residency in Bryan provided $700,000 in care to uninsured patients in 2002. And College of Medicine faculty at the Scott & White campus provided unreimbursed medical care for 4,100 patients at the Temple Community Free Clinic in 2002.
Medical students also provide free health care to the homeless and the indigent at Martha’s Clinic in Temple. Founded in 1994 by two College of Medicine students, the clinic over the past 12 months provided care for 897 uninsured patients. At any given time, from six to 12 third- and fourth-year medical students are on duty, performing patient examinations and necessary minor laboratory work and formulating care plans, which are then presented to the attending physician, who approves the institution of appropriate care. Last year, 150 basic medical procedures were performed at the clinic, and patients received needed medications. All treatment is free of charge.
In response to the students’ commitment and enthusiasm for Martha’s Clinic and because of the hands-on learning experience it offers, the College of Medicine approved an indigent health care elective for students who complete significant documented work at the clinic and who present a project dealing with patient education or improving the clinic. This year, 75 percent of the fourth-year class volunteers time at the clinic and participates in this elective.
First- and second-year medical students volunteer their services at Bryan’s Health for All Clinic, which provides medical services regardless of the ability to pay. And throughout the year, students participate in outreach efforts like the College of Medicine Health Circus, where free immunizations and CHIP and Medicaid sign-ups are offered.
As the largest single provider of oral health care services in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, each year the A&M System Health Science Center’s dental school, Baylor College of Dentistry, provides patient care on site and at area hospitals and clinics to thousands of people who otherwise would not receive any type of dental treatment. In 2002, the college delivered more than $850,000 in charity care and had 121,400 patient visits, about 45 percent of which were by low-income patients. Most of these patients are underinsured or uninsured.
Two of the dental college’s many community services benefitting uninsured and underinsured patients include the Dallas County Sealant Initiative and the Ryan White Foundation’s Dental Reimbursement Grant program. Through the Sealant Initiative, Baylor College of Dentistry students and faculty — working with the Dallas County Dental Society and school nurses — travel to Dallas public schools to provide dental screenings and place protective sealants on the teeth of hundreds of high-risk children. In recognition of Children’s Dental Health Day, Baylor College of Dentistry opened its doors on a Saturday last month to provide free cleanings and treatment to 150 children identified through the Sealant Initiative. In 2002, more than 2,000 children received services through the initiative.
For each of the past 11 years, Baylor College of Dentistry has renewed the HIV/AIDS Ryan White Dental Reimbursement grant to support care for patients who are HIV positive. The reimbursement has increased each year to its current level of $228,455. With more than 450 patients covered, people who are HIV positive or have the AIDS virus receive quality dental care while contributing to diversified clinical experiences for dental students. The majority of these patients are uninsured. The Health Science Center has also partnered with the Texas Cooperative Extension Service, with funding from the Houston Endowment, to host educational programs for Valley residents on such topics as birth defects, prenatal care and diabetes prevention and care.
Also along the border, the School of Rural Public Health’s HERO program at the A&M System Health Science Center, also a partnership with Texas Cooperative Extension, provides mobile health and dental services, education and referrals to isolated individuals, regardless of insurance and free of change. HERO also provides health education, community empowerment and referral services to individuals at a grassroots level throughout numerous regions across Texas.
Statistics indicate that over 41 million people in the United States — 8.5 million of them children — lacked health coverage last year and that, contrary to popular wisdom, 63 percent of these uninsured were working full-time or had someone in their household working full-time. Eight out of 10 of these uninsured were members of families that cannot afford health insurance, yet are not eligible for public programs. And studies indicate that uninsured Americans live sicker and die younger because they are forced to go without the medical care they need.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.