Mission Medical beacon for region’s infirm

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Mission Medical Clinic began in 2004 as a “group of church-minded folks who were praying for healing,” according to Barb Cronin, executive director for the only free clinic in Colorado Springs.

“They soon discovered if they added a little penicillin to the praying, perhaps people would be healed faster,” she said.

This is the fifth year in a row Mission Medical Clinic has been part of the Give! campaign, which has contributed more than $100,000 to the clinic from its end-of-year campaign.

“We’re honored,” she said. “We don’t take it lightly or assume we’ll be in [Give!] again.”

Located at 2125 E. La Salle St., Cronin said the 22,000-square-foot building’s façade doesn’t do justice to the good works taking place within. On an annual budget of about $300,000, the clinic offers services to low-income individuals, the uninsured and underinsured.

“Uninsured is easy to understand. Underinsured is a gray area,” she said. “These are people who have gone onto the health care exchange and purchased insurance; they pay their premium, but they can’t afford to see the doctor. They have to make tough decision between the $120 bill and food on the table.”

The clinic sees a lot of chronic patients, including people with diabetes, heart problems and thyroid issues.

“We soon discovered, with those folks, there were other issues; those being dental,” Cronin said.

So the clinic offers dental work, in addition to a podiatrist, an ophthalmologist, a mental health professional — a spectrum of providers, and each volunteers time free of charge.

The clinic even has a dispensary of donated drugs for Mission Medical patients.

“Most patients end up having four or six scripts. Big deal, right? Let them go to Walmart for a $4 script. Well, times four — they don’t have that for a 30-day supply and they won’t be compliant.”

Mission Medical even helps the uninsured and underinsured enroll in prescription assistance programs, Cronin said.

GIVE THEM DIGNITY

Mission Medical has a small staff. Cronin is the only full-time employee working with four part-time workers.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, about 70 percent of the clinic’s patients became eligible for Medicaid, she said.

“When the ACA came out, our funders questioned us heavily,” Cronin said. “‘Why do you need to exist? Everyone has insurance.’ Not true.”

And because of rising costs, even those with insurance can’t always use it. As a result, the clinic has seen a significant increase in its underinsured population.

“I went to the board, and we had the bylaws include the underinsured,” she said. “That population has grown by 30 or 40 percent. It’s our largest growth and that churn is our greatest challenge.”

The clinic saw 746 individuals last year in more than 3,200 visits. Mission Medical doesn’t receive any federal funding and doesn’t take insurance. The majority of the clinic’s budget comes from individual donors, she said.

“We do fundraising and rely on grants and foundations,” she said. “We also get money from the [Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing’s] Primary Care Fund, which comes from the state tobacco tax.”

With additional funding, Cronin said her vision to help more people would include a part-time nurse practitioner.

“A full-time nurse practitioner would really be dreaming,” she said. “But a part-time nurse practitioner and a part-time dentist would be great. Even with Medicaid, the dental benefit for adults is $1,000. You can’t do very much at all with $1,000.”

Cronin emphasized the clinic provides Southern Coloradans with more than health care.

“I love being able to serve folks and have them look me in the eye and say, ‘Thank you.’ We provide compassion. We help people. Where would they go? This is not just medical care — we give them dignity.”