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If You've Seen One Clinic, You've Seen One Clinic

“If you’ve seen one clinic, you’ve seen one clinic.” – Brooke Powers, Program Manager,  ClinicNET

I couldn’t agree more.

I had the opportunity recently to visit three safety net clinics as part of Clinic Week, an event designed to teach Coloradans more about our network of safety net clinics.

The safety net is comprised of health care providers and clinics offering medical, dental and mental health care to low-income, uninsured and underinsured individuals and people enrolled in publicly funded health insurance programs, regardless of their ability to pay.

My first stop, Arvada!

I hopped in my car and arrived at Carin’ Clinic, which serves Arvada’s most vulnerable children. While navigating around the scattered toys in the waiting area, I learned that Carin’ Clinic was created almost two decades ago by two Jefferson County school nurses who recognized that many of the students they saw lacked health insurance and had nowhere to go for health care.

On my tour I was fortunate to be joined by Karen Pramenko, one of the founding nurses. Today, the impact of this small clinic is far-reaching, with 70 percent of its patients uninsured and the rest covered by Medicaid. Carin’ uses a sliding fee scale that takes into account a patient’s ability to pay. In addition to medical services, Carin’ emphasizes education. Margaret Sobocinki, one of the clinic’s nurse practitioners, told me about the range of services provided at Carin’ Clinic, including HeartSmartKids, a program designed to attack childhood obesity by creating a child’s cardiovascular risk profile.

Next, I ventured south to Colorado Springs to see Mission Medical. This faith-based clinic was created to improve access to health care for uninsured adults with chronic illnesses in El Paso and Teller counties. It sees patients when they are most in need and then transitions them to more permanent clinics, generally after 10 to 20 months.  All of Mission’s patients are uninsured, and they are asked only to contribute a suggested donation of $5 for each visit.

The clinic’s large two-story facility allows diverse services, such as diabetes specialty care, behavioral health care, dental care, vision care, physical therapy and nutrition education. Mission also has a team of referral nurses who help connect patients to additional services when needed.

On the last day of Clinic Week, I headed over to ACS Community Lift Medical Services, a Denver clinic just a few miles from CHI’s downtown offices. ACS Lift is a faith-based Adventist organization that provides medical care to the uninsured and underinsured. Colorado has two stationary ACS clinics as well as two mobile medical vans.

The stationary clinic I visited offers primary medical care and mental health counseling, as well as a once-a-week physical therapy class in a converted conference room. The Denver ACS Lift is also home to a disaster relief program, a food bank and a thrift store, and offers a range of additional services, such as a job-readiness program. “We really aim to treat the whole patient,” said ACS Lift nurse practitioner Linda Carabajal.

Safety net clinics share a vision: to help Colorado’s most vulnerable people by providing high quality health care. But each clinic is unique in its vision and its services.

I am grateful for the opportunity to visit three of Colorado’s safety net clinics and to meet the people who are running them. Sometimes I find that when I am knee-deep in data or policy analysis, health care can seem abstract, so I look forward to applying this new perspective to my work at CHI. 

(Slideshow photos by Charlotte Kaye and Brooke Powers)

Natalie Triedman is a policy analyst at CHI.