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Ensuring care for uninsured


San Diego Union Tribune, November 2006

By Anne Krueger

November 11, 2006

EL CAJON – Ken Bagley hadn’t visited a doctor’s office in decades. He had health insurance for a while but couldn’t make the payments, and he didn’t qualify for Medi-Cal.

“They call it the rich poor,” the retired locksmith said. “Too rich for assistance but too poor to get (insurance) any other way.”

When Bagley, 52, heard about the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in El Cajon, he decided it was time for a checkup.

He met with Gresham Bayne, a Point Loma physician who’s been pushing for the clinic for six years. Bagley spent half an hour with Bayne, had his blood tested, and left with a month’s supply of medication – all at no cost.

The clinic opened in September in a modular building in the parking lot of Chapel of the Valley United Methodist Church. It’s the 50th Volunteers in Medicine clinic in the country, and the first in California. The clinics recruit retired physicians and nurses to treat the uninsured.

Bayne, who started The Call Doctor Co. in 1985 with a staff of physicians who make house calls, is convinced that the techniques he uses with the house-call doctors can be applied to the medical clinic.

Bayne believes most patients don’t need costly medical tests, and many of those tests can be performed using portable devices that provide quick results.

When he saw Bagley last week, Bayne drew a blood sample and used a hand-held device to determine his cholesterol and iron levels within a couple of minutes. Bayne said the test costs the clinic about $6.50. Bagley would have paid several hundred dollars at a hospital emergency room.

“It isn’t expensive. It’s the dirty little secret,” Bayne said.

For now, the clinic is open just Saturday mornings, and Bayne is the only physician seeing patients. Only El Cajon residents who meet income requirements are eligible. Eventually, the clinic will be open all day Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays, and its patient base will expand.

The space for the clinic is being leased from the Methodist church for $1 a year, and an anonymous donor set up a $5,000-a-month endowment to pay for clinic expenses, said Garry Bradt, a retired doctor who is supervising operations.

On the wall of the clinic is a conceptual drawing of the $2 million building planned for construction behind the church. Bayne said he didn’t want to wait until it’s built to begin treating patients.

Bayne and other clinic backers are now trying to raise money for the building, which they hope to begin constructing next year.

Even when the permanent clinic is built, Bayne said, he hopes some patients can be treated in their homes.

Only patients with an appointment are seen at the clinic. A half-hour is set aside for each visit, part of the Volunteers in Medicine philosophy of providing a high level of care.

Patients at the clinic last week had high praise for Bayne, including one who said: “This man just opened up his heart.”

David Hansen, 37, came to the clinic for treatment of his high blood pressure. He’d recently gotten off SSupplemental Security Income and had no insurance.

“It was just a relief,” he said. “Instead of putting it off and not getting it done, I’m having it done here.” Bayne said the clinic offered retired doctors a chance to practice medicine without being encumbered by insurance regulations and paperwork. The volunteer doctors also are shielded from malpractice lawsuits by federal law.

“Professionals never want to retire,” Bayne said. “We like what we do. We want to make people feel better.”

Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; anne.krueger@uniontrib.com

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