LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Health care costs in the United States are out of control. Half of all personal bankruptcies stem from medical expenses and many families are left skipping out on check-ups because of the price tag. In this special Healthcast report, 7News looks inside one community's solution to the health care crisis.
For more than a century, trains have moved through Beauregard Parish fueling the economy. Driving down the streets of DeRidder, trucks hauling timber show that this industry is also still alive. But unlike decades past, these industries are now hurting, and so are those people affected by mass lay-offs, like this month's cut of 100 positions at Boise-Cascade Paper Mill. "You hear all the time about other places getting hit," says former Boise employee Jason Martin, "you think you're secure and you're not. Unfortunately, I was affected by this."
In Beauregard Parish, one in six people live below the federal poverty level. This lack of income forces many families to do without and health insurance has now become a financial burden people can't carry. Beauregard Parish resident Carolyn Little says, "It's awfully expensive today if you do not have a job that provides those benefits."
Census numbers show that 61 percent of Louisiana's working population is uninsured - that's 390,000 people in the state working each day with no health coverage. Beauregard Parish resident Mia Waters says, "If I had to pay for health benefits, I would definitely use a free clinic, that would be my first option."
A free clinic might sound like a far cry from reality, but that's exactly what a community action team came up with after three years of planning. Dr. Henry Carter says, "Government programs including LAChip and Medicaid cover a lot of people, but they still leave some people falling through the cracks."
Fresh paint covers the walls inside the Beauregard Agape Community Clinic. Every item, from the patient chairs to computers, even prescription medication and the services of every person involved - has been donated to make this clinic a real place for the working uninsured or recently laid off to get health care at no cost. Volunteer Kelli Broocks says, "Even though we say it's a free clinic, the next question that comes out of their mouth is 'how much does it cost,' well, it's free, it's absolutely free!"
Accepting something for nothing is a hard concept for hard-working folks to embrace. But as the economic landscape of this tightly-woven community changes, these volunteer physicians and staffers say they will consistently provide as much care for as many people as possible. Beauregard Agape Community Clinic Medical Director Steven Farquhar says, "It's extremely rewarding to see a patient whose eyes well up with tears, knowing that had they not had this opportunity, they would not be seeing a physician."
*The Beauregard Agape Community Clinic is now fully up and running on Thursdays from 3:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M. for residents of Allen, Beauregard and Vernon Parishes. If you want to learn more about how the community made this possible, volunteer opportunities or requirements for visiting the clinic, call 337-462-1066.