Throughout Schenectady, there are a variety of health facilities and resources one could access to receive the necessary care they desired; however, what would someone do if they didn’t have health insurance?
Although Schenectady is one of the larger cities in the state of New York, as well as up-and-coming, only 93.3% of people have health insurance, compared to its neighboring city, Saratoga Springs, where 97% of people have health insurance. Furthermore, Schenectady has the largest percentage of citizens with no health insurance compared to its neighboring towns: 6.7%. The majority of those without health insurance fall under the income category of making between $25k-$50k a year, making it difficult for them to pay for medical expenses out of pocket. One possible reason for this is that the people who fall under this income category make too much to receive Medicaid benefits, however not enough to afford private insurance for themselves and their family members. In New York State, for a household of one, the maximum income level (per year) for an individual to receive Medicaid benefits is $16,971, whereas, for a household size of four, the maximum income level (per year) is $34,846. While the individuals within the $25k-$50k income category make more than the maximum income level to receive aid from Medicaid, they still are unable to provide health insurance for their families or even themselves. This raises the question, what should they do?
Can You Access Healthcare Without Insurance?
Numerous health facilities throughout Schenectady offer free and income-based services for those who need them! These facilities advertise themselves as clinics for “low-income persons or those without insurance.” These clinics offer a wide array of services including dental services, medical services, women’s health services, adult health services, pediatric services, pediatric dental services, behavioral services, as well as many more based on a free to sliding scale payment system.
More specifically, Ellis Primary Care (Schenectady, McClellan Street) provides a variety of services including but not limited to colds and flu, physical exams and immunization, maternity care and addressing questions about child development/concerns that come with getting older, as well as adult health services and primary care. They also provide these services to all income levels as well as to uninsured, underinsured, Medicare, and Medicaid patients. For those who are uninsured, Ellis Primary Care facilities work with patients to offer Financial Assistance.
Ellis Primary Care (Schenectady, McClellan Street) is just one of the many facilities that provide financial assistance to those in need. A list of other facilities can be found here.
An attempt to expand access to healthcare services in Schenectady County
Two Schenectady County seniors, Mardy Moore (former Niskayuna Town Supervisor) and Dr. Robert Pletman, formed the Volunteer Physicians Project in 1999, otherwise known as the Schenectady Free Health Clinic. Initially, the program treated patients at the Bethesda House in downtown Schenectady but later moved to its second location on Franklin Street.
The goal of this program was “To understand and serve the health and wellness needs of the medically uninsured or underinsured of Schenectady County by providing free access to medical care services to low-income residents who have no other source of medical care.”
The Volunteer Physicians Project provided free medical care which was entirely financed by fundraisers, donations, and grants from foundations as well as governmental units.
The participating clinic doctors were often recently retired from full-time medical practices in the surrounding Schenectady County and provided a variety of different services as well as education and information about choices that affected one’s lifestyle to promote preventive medical care.
With an estimated 16,000 uninsured people in Schenectady County, this service proved to be a vital source for those people to receive proper medical care without the stress of having to find the means to afford it.
Unfortunately, in 2013, the Free Health Clinic officially closed its doors because it failed to meet its annual operating costs. However, luckily, patients of the Schenectady Free Health Clinic were notified ahead of time and transferred to either Hometown Health Center or Ellis, where there were community health workers to determine the exact healthcare needs of each patient.
How COVID-19 has Affected Healthcare Services
Health centers and free clinics acted as a vital resource to underserved communities in times when they needed them most; however, COVID-19 has had a major impact on how these facilities can benefit their communities.
Health centers are reporting a steep decline in patient visits as well as staff reporting to work due to the fear of being exposed to the coronavirus. Additionally, many health centers had to temporarily close at the beginning of the pandemic because of the lack of materials provided to them to keep the doctors and staff safe to treat patients.
When health facilities are unable to provide the support and services to their patients, especially in times of need, the population suffers as a whole. However, one possible solution to approach this problem is through telemedicine: the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, providers at Hometown Health Centers in Schenectady saw their patients’ hesitation of wanting to come into the office. As a result of this, they set up their own form of telehealth. Now, patients can request an appointment through the patient portal and follow a few simple steps to confirm their appointment. They offer a range of providers through their telehealth service including primary care doctors, pediatricians, OB-GYNs, and primary care providers. Resources such as telehealth have provided a variety of necessary and useful services to patients while eliminating the fear of having them leave the comfort of their own home, especially now during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout this time of uncertainty, Schenectady has been able to make a change to provide better access to its patients. Telehealth services, while not a new form of technology, have become widespread and adopted more rapidly than ever before. Could this be the future of medicine? Will we ever completely return to regular in-person checkups? Or will we entirely switch over to telehealth services?
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