When Mardica Hicks took control of the Children's Community Clinic two years ago, things weren't looking so good.
The 30-year-old clinic was in financial distress, with about a month's worth of operating expenses in the bank. Six months earlier, the clinic's grant writer left, leaving a gaping hole in the clinic's expected income.
"Things have improved," says Hicks.
Now, they just have to find more patients.
With new grants from Spirit Mountain, the Collins Foundation, the Legacy Foundation and the local Rotary, operations are no longer the pressing issue of the day. For now, at least, Hicks can focus on more important things – health care for children.
"Parents understand the importance of getting health care in a timely fashion," she said. "Children need to understand the importance of it too."
As director, Hicks wants children to take an active role in their own health, instead of having to rely solely on their overworked and overburdened parents.
Over the summer, she saw firsthand the healthcare gap that exists in North Portland. Of 34 children who were selected randomly for free check-ups at a health fair, 30 needed follow-up care.
"These problems occur over a long period of time," she said.
And some problems are exacerbated by poor diet choices, exercise practices and a lack of preventative care. When Hicks first arrived at the clinic, she had to figure out how to provide $1,500 in dental vouchers to a 4-year-old. She needed crowns, root canals and other major work – work usually reserved for those much, much older.
As dental hygiene can have a greater impact on the health of the body, Hicks knows the importance that young people maintain healthy teeth and gums. In July, the Children's Community Clinic contracted with the Oregon Dental Foundation Tooth Taxi to provide free preventative and restorative dental care to 47 children in four days. The care cost about $21,400.
With a focus on low-income children who are either underinsured or uninsured, the Children's Community Clinic retains the services of many qualified, board-certified pediatricians, including Dr. Sklar, a neo-natalogist from Kaiser, Dr. Bayl, a pediatric cardiologist from OHSU, asthma specialists and a doctor specializing in adolescent girls may be joining them. Hicks hopes to educate more parents on the importance of getting regular check-ups when their children are not acutely ill.
For the clinic's main pediatrictian, Dr. Ron LaGrone, getting children into the fully operational clinic has been challenging, despite the fact that many pediatricians cap the number of Oregon Health Plan patients they see at about 10 percent.
"We know the need is out there," he said.
LaGrone came from Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his clinic – a clinic that always took a high percentage of children on public assistance health plans. He says the decision to work for a nonprofit community clinic, as opposed to a for-profit, insurance only clinic, was partly shaped by his time spent as a doctor in third world countries. And at the clinic, he still sees a cross-section of people from all different kinds of backgrounds – African Americans, legal and illegal Hispanics, Uzbekistanis, Eritreans, Somalis, Whites.
Many of the illness and symptom LaGrone treats at the Children's Clinic mirrors society's problems – obesity, type II diabetes, asthma. LaGrone says that although they can treat a wide range of primary care problems, finding specialists remains difficult.
He said a young man of 19 almost died because his parents lost their job-related health insurance. His Crohn's Disease – a painful inflammation of the intestines – went untreated due to the high cost of medication. After three months, they were still unable to find a specialist willing to give care, when his mother found a new job and was fast-tracked onto her job's insurance program. The boy ended up having surgery and spending two weeks in the hospital.
Hicks and LaGrone are hopeful about national health care reform. She says it is currently difficult for many families on the Oregon Health Plan to find pediatricians. With the influx of children who are now not receiving care, she fears there will be a dearth of available doctors. She says parents absolutely must take an active role in prevention – providing nutritious meals and promoting exercise – that can reduce the need for some services, like the $1,500 in dental repairs for the 4-year-old that were likely caused by sugary food and drink.
"If parents are not educated about prevention, it'll add costs instead of savings to the system," she says.
The Children's Community Clinic is a member of the Coalition of Community Clinics and is located at 27 NE Killingsworth St. They can be reached by calling 503-284-5239.