Petersburg has some of the worst health indicators in the state, including high rates of obesity, diabetes and premature deaths. A group of doctors are hoping to treat more people in need through free specialty clinics. Virginia Currents producer Catherine Komp reports.
At Pathways in Petersburg, nurse Kiana Kimber assists a patient with his prescription and follow-up appointment.
Kiana Kimber: I volunteer the first Saturday of the month, so this being the first Saturday we’re doing chronic care and pulmonary care.
It’s a free clinic, open for two hours today. Patients who come here are stuck in that limbo - they make too much for Medicaid and too little to afford insurance.
Kimber: Really all of them honestly don’t have insurance so they come here to see the doctor, to get care and to get prescriptions.
Since its first clinic in 2008, the community development organization Pathways has gradually expanded health services, says CEO Juanita Epps.
And, they’ve just added a new clinic for mental health treatment.
Salim Zulfiqar: My name is Dr. Zulfiqar, they call me Dr. Z.
Psychiatrist Salim Zulfiqar sees a patient who’s concerned about anxiety.
Zulfiqar: So tell me, what is the reason you come see me?
Patient: I’ve been having panic attacks...
The patient is middle-aged and single. She lives with her mother and with only an 8th grade education, has little work history. Her son’s death on Mother’s Day 2005 still affects her.
Patient: I try to tell a lot of people, they don’t see how I could still feel this way when my son’s been gone for 10 years. It was my child. Then like, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, his birthday when he’s not around… it just gets to me.
Another issue that causes distress - paying for prescriptions. The patient says her mother gave her some change so she could get her blood pressure pills, and she doesn’t know if she can afford additional medication.
Zulfiqar: These people who don’t have any insurance or if they have insurance, not many of the private providers take that insurance. It’s hard for them to even come in contact with [mental health care] and it’s not easy, you know the mental illness, it affects all aspects of your life, it’s very hard.
Zulfiqar and other doctors here are members of the local chapter of APPNA, the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America. They’re helping Pathways expand specialty services to Petersburg’s uninsured and underinsured. Cardiologist Nadeem Faruqi is president of the Virginia Chapter of APPNA.
Nadeem Faruqi: A lot of people are undiagnosed and unfortunately they are unaware of their condition and I don’t think as a human being they should suffer.
Take a patient with a persistent cough, says Dr. Fauqi, he should be seen by a pulmonologist to screen for lung cancer.
Faruqi: If you find that cancer early, he can have a normal life by a small surgery. So that’s our vision, just because they’re poor and can’t afford to see a doctor, they should not die early. So that’s why we are doing this.
Petersburg has the worst rate of premature death in Virginia, more than double the state average. More than a quarter of the population lives in poverty, unemployment is about 10% and about 17% are uninsured, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Rehan Khan: This is a phase where we are trying to see what is the actual need of the community.
Dr. Rehan Khan is another APPNA member and Chief of Radiology at the McGuire VA Medical Center. They have enough doctors willing to volunteer for the Chronic Care, Pulmonology and Mental Health clinics, but they don’t always have enough patients signed up for appointments.
Khan: The biggest challenge I face is how to spread the word around. I know people need this, how we can bring them towards the services which are available to them. Maybe some people still feel this is not the best solution but at least it is something which we can grow on.
Khan says as they build trust in the community and attract more patients, they hope to eventually expand services. Pathways Juanita Epps says while Petersburg is often cited for negative health indicators, efforts like these are a step in the right direction.
Epps: There are there positives, there are glimmers of light, there are things that are happening that’s helping people with their health. Even within our programs, we promote healthy eating within our organization we have our health challenge, a quarterly health challenge. So it's not just looking at individuals in the community, how do we walk the talk? So we're talking it but we do it and we make sure that our participants are also thinking about that so that ultimately they're taking it back into their homes.
Pathways hosts about nine free clinics each month, including services for women’s health, rheumatology and cardiology in addition to the new specialty services in mental health, pulmonology and chronic care. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.