By Susan Redden
A new medical lab at the Joplin Community Clinic will make it a lot easier for doctors to monitor his diabetes, Douglas Hull said Monday.
Before, when doctors at the clinic ordered blood work or other lab tests, he had to go to a hospital, said the Joplin man, who has been going to the clinic since he lost his insurance coverage in 2010.
“It was a whole second trip, and I would have a tendency to put it off,” Hull said. “And after they got the results, I’d have to go back in.”
Now, he can get his lab work done at the Community Clinic, Hull said as a technician finished drawing blood from him.
“This is going to help lots and lots of people,” he said.
The new lab equipment, which has been in use for about two weeks, will be the focus of ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. today at the clinic that will recognize Heart to Heart International, the Kansas City-based medical aid group that provided the equipment.
“Before, we had to send people to the hospitals for labs, and then they would have to come back when we got the results,” said Barbara Bilton, Community Clinic executive director. “Now, we can have them in 10 minutes, and the doctor can treat them while they’re here.”
Since its founding in 1993 to help area residents with limited access to health care, the clinic has relied on a partnership with local hospitals to do lab work for its patients. The May 22 tornado added more stress to the system, wiping out St. John’s Regional Medical Center and increasing the number of patients using the clinic.
But the tornado also brought help in the form of Heart to Heart International, which sent a mobile clinic to help with local health needs after the storm.
“We spent nearly a month and treated over 800 people with a variety of health needs,” said Scott Koertner, director of programs for the organization. “We got to know people at Access Family Care and the Community Clinic very well through resource sharing, and we’ve continued to work with them.”
As Heart to Heart ended its on-site presence in Joplin, officials asked the Community Clinic how they could continue to be of help, he said.
“When they told us they needed a lab, we got with Carla,” Koertner said, referring to Carla Orner, who heads medical laboratory programs for Heart to Heart.
The group earlier had set up a similar lab for a free clinic in Kansas City, Orner said.
“It’s a huge advantage because patients can get things done in one visit, rather than having to come back,” she said. “And if labs determine a problem with a diagnosis, sometimes it’s hard to track these patients down and get them back in.”
Bilton agreed: “Some of our patients are homeless and in shelters, and simply couldn’t get to a hospital. This is going to be such an improvement, and we never would have been able to afford it otherwise.”
Orner said the lab equipment costs about $22,000, and an additional $15,000 was invested in writing regulations, navigating state requirements and training clinic staff members.
Orner will continue to monitor the operation and provide the technical expertise until a local clinical laboratory scientist can be found. Heart to Heart also will pay for the cost of the analyses — which can be up to $70 per test — for at least two years.
Hull, who also attends diabetes education classes at the clinic, said he knows blood testing is an important part of his treatment. Being able to get the tests and see the doctor at the same time “makes it a whole lot better,” he said.
IN THE WAKE OF THE MAY 22 TORNADO, the number of patients being treated by the Joplin Community Clinic has increased by just more than 36 percent, to 10,500 from 7,700 patients.