Free health camps are attracting large number of people in the economically hit US these days. More than 600 from the area's hospitals and safety-net clinics have volunteered for the Kansas City clinic, slated for Dec. 9 and 10. Organizers are hoping to recruit at least twice that number.
"It truly has been life-changing for many volunteers to see the overwhelming need of so many people," said Sheri Wood, executive director of the Kansas City Free Health Clinic.
Before the economy nose-dived, the nation's 1,200 free clinics were seeing about 4 million patients a year. This year, it's doubled, said Tom Susman, a consultant to the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC).
The NAFC is a national non-profit association of free clinics in the United States, which are themselves community-based, non-profit, volunteer-supported Free Clinics serving the people without or with little health insurance.
The national organization performs public policy advocacy and acts as a conduit for donations to free clinics.
The Kansas City Free Health Clinic saw an 18 percent increase in patients last year. It has to turn away about 200 people each week.
"People are losing their insurance, their jobs," Susman said. "They put things off until they end up in the emergency room."
Statistics from the New Orleans clinic event tell the story:
Fifty-seven percent of the patients were diagnosed with high blood pressure; 71 percent had heart disease.
But 68 percent had not seen a doctor in a year, and 31 percent said they do not see a doctor when they are sick.
Seven people who went to the Little Rock clinic were so ill they were sent to emergency rooms.
The forthcoming Kansas clinic was thought up by two national television personalities who wanted to publicize the plight of people without health insurance and pressure wavering senators to support health care reform.
Heart surgeon Mehmet Oz partnered with the free clinic association for the Houston clinic. He featured the event on his syndicated TV show.
During an episode of his MSNBC show "Countdown" that focused on health care reform, left-of-center commentator Keith Olbermann mentioned the Houston clinic.
Then he urged viewers to donate to the free clinic association.
Wood said the free clinic association didn't know that Olbermann was going to make that pitch. But the promotion quickly raised about $1.5 million.
Kansas City was chosen for a clinic to illustrate how the problems of the uninsured extend deep into the heartland, Wood said.