Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dr. Lorna Stuart, Founder of The Clinic - Recognized as a CNN Hero!

Congratulations, Dr. Stuart!

Filling the health care gaps


Dr. Lorna Stuart is founder of The Clinic in Phoenixville and was recognized as a CNN Hero for her work.

While tripping over cracks can lead to some painful moments, slipping through them can be even worse. When the two are combined, however, some people have nowhere to go.

According to Dr. Lorna Stuart, founder of The Clinic in Phoenixville, one in seven people in the United States do not have health insurance. For some, it’s because they’ve lost their jobs later in life, and what company, Stuart asks, is going to hire someone who’s in their late 50s? For others, they simply can not afford health insurance. Stuart describes a situation that many of her patients face — those who work 40-hour weeks between two part-time jobs. Part-time employment often doesn’t come with benefits, like insurance, Stuart said.

So, in 2002, after 22 years in private practice, Stuart opened The Clinic, a place where anyone without insurance can receive medical treatment. That’s actually The Clinic’s policy — to receive treatment, you can’t have any insurance. “We go by the honor system,” Stuart said.

Stuart said that toward the end of the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, insurance companies made it harder and harder to practice medicine and made it harder and harder to be a patient, “Medicine was becoming so expensive,” Stuart said. She said she spent most of her time filling out paperwork for insurance companies. “There was no time to sit and listen to the patient,” she said.

Fed up with the system, Stuart decided to work outside of it and practice what she calls “old-fashioned medicine.”

When you walk into The Clinic, if you look around, you’ll notice there is a receptionist but a piece of glass doesn’t separate patient from employee. And the first question the receptionist asks, Stuart points out, isn’t, “Do you have your insurance card?”

The Clinic’s 10 volunteer doctors and two staff doctors see, on average, between 40 and 50 patients a day. And in the six years it’s been open, patients from all over the county, state, region and also 98 countries were treated.

In the hallway leading to exam rooms a map of the world hangs and a pushpin represents each country a patient has been from. Those patients have included people visiting family members here in the area, students traveling, immigrants and their parents.

Because The Clinic is a nonprofit that exists only through donations, there are no limits as to whom they can see. Stuart said other clinics, because they receive government funding, can become limited to only treating patients who live within a certain area or only make so much money. “Because we don’t receive government money,” Stuart said, “we make our own rules.”

The cost of an average visit is $60 but patients are only asked to pay what they can. Stuart said the average payment is $16. The rest of $900,000 operating budget comes from donations, grants and fundraisers.

The Clinic is as self-contained as possible. The doctors, both volunteers and staff, all have different specialties that range from pediatrics to nutritionists, “but we need an orthopedist,” Stuart said.

What happens if you’re 25 years old and you sprain your ankle playing baseball and you don’t have insurance, Stuart asks. Stuart said, more often than not, an orthopedist isn’t going to see someone without insurance.

However, those who work at The Clinic try not only to provide medical care to those who need it in a way that makes both doctor and patient happy but to actually try to brighten the days of their patients.

Within the waiting room of The Clinic sit shelves full of cakes, cookies, pies and other treats. The food that sits on them is donated by people and stores within in the community and is free for patients. It’s another practice in The Clinic that Stuart is proud of, “Some people can’t afford a treat ... like cheesecake,” she said.

Because of her work with The Clinic, Stuart was nominated for a CNN Heroes award toward the end of the winter.

Stuart said she didn’t even know was nominated until she received a phone call from a representative from CNN. She was notified of the nomination and they asked her some basic questions and Stuart said she then forgot about the whole thing. But then she said they called back, telling her that she was going to be profiled.

Now, Stuart is in the running to be CNN’s Hero of the year. The top 10 are chosen by a panel at CNN and then the CNN audience votes on a winner, according to Christa Robinson, a representative with CNN.

But Stuart doesn’t seem interested in awards or accolades — just old-fashioned medicine and helping sick or injured patients. “The first reaction to illness is fear,” Stuart said. “The second is how are you going to pay for it.”

-- For more information on The Clinic, visit www.theclinicphoenixville.com.


1 comment:

Karen said...

Dr. Lorna B. Stuart, Medical Director and Dr. Amy Jane Cadieux, volunteer Physician at The Clinic, have been rated as the Main Line's best and brightest top doctors.