My name is Dale Hadden. I am the Clinic Manager at the Free Medical Clinic of Oak Ridge. For the past 10 years I have worked as an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner to provide free medical care for low-income and uninsured residents of Anderson, Morgan and Roane Counties of Tennessee.
My colleagues and I can give our patients top notch primary care. We do well visits, immunizations, health screenings, lab work, and chronic disease management. But that is not always enough. The saddest part of my job is seeing patients who would be productive members of the community if only they had insurance.
For example, one young man came to our clinic with a lesion on his face. He worked at a job with no health insurance. My initial screening gave me concern. I knew he needed to be seen by a specialist for further testing. Early detection makes a difference in cancer outcome, but It took 5 months to get him seen by a dermatologist willing to offer charity care. The dermatologist diagnosed him with Stage 3 Melanoma. At this point, his prognosis is not good.
Another patient struggled with Crohn’s disease. In the past, he had been able to keep the disease under control with medication. But when he lost his job with insurance, he lost his ability to afford the expensive medication. He struggled to work without insurance and without medication, ending up several times in the Emergency Room. The ER was able to stabilize him with antibiotics and steroids, but without regular medication the flare-ups kept happening. He came to me after one such ER visit. He was in a dangerous condition, but he begged me not to send him back to the ER, because he already had crushing medical debt. A gastroenterologist from our clinic and I talked to him and convinced him to go to the hospital. He spent 5 days in ICU. Crohn’s Disease is dangerous, even deadly, but it is manageable with medication. If this man had insurance coverage he would have access to the medication he needs to keep him out of the hospital, keep him healthy and productive.
These are just a few examples of the patients we see at the Free Medical Clinic. There are 14,000 residents in Anderson, Roane and Morgan counties that are low-income and uninsured. We get patients with diabetes, COPD, high blood pressure, kidney disease, thyroid problems, and many other illnesses. My work is just a band-aid. Our patients need comprehensive health insurance coverage. Currently in Tennessee, the poorest of the poor cannot get medical insurance. If the Tennessee General Assembly would pass Medicaid Expansion, most of our patients would have access to quality health care.