We picked Houston because it has the highest rate of people living without insurance in the nation - 30% or about 1.3 million residents. Texas leads all 50 states with 25% of its residents living without insurance; the national average is a whopping 15%. We announced the clinic last week and after an article appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, pre-registration surged and we had to close appointments by early Friday afternoon with 2000 people scheduled to receive free health care. Saturday turned out to be the largest health relief mobilization in Houston since Hurricane Katrina. More than 700 doctors, nurses and volunteers turned out to help. The part that you have to understand about Saturday is that it wasn't in response to a disaster - it was just another day in Houston.
And show up they did. They came as entire families. Many drove hours to get there; others hitchhiked. I walked out at 5am and greeted the first woman on line, Karen, a working school teacher who could not keep up with her insurance payments. Think about it for moment - sitting on the pavement at 5am in the dark waiting for a massive convention center to open just to see a doctor? This is what it's come to, and it should frustrate you as it does me. So many patients had tragic stories that still burn in my heart. Most were embarrassed to seek help and many felt invisible in society, like they didn't matter anymore.
Bobby Parker, a 63-year-old woman from the Houston suburb of Channelworth had severe hypertension, putting her at grave risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease. She needed immediate care and I escorted her over to the mobile medical unit for more extensive screening. With us walked her 19-year-old granddaughter Amanda who suffers with acid reflux disease. She recently lost her Medicaid and cannot afford medical care to evaluate the problem or her prescription to keep it under control, giving her severe discomfort from the heartburn and putting her at risk for esophageal cancer. Her grandmother has an advanced degree in social work and worked her entire life in social services helping those in need. Should either woman be in this situation?
Anthony DeLane saw the free clinic on television that morning and decided to show up for problems he was having with his foot. Anthony actually had a diabetic foot ulcer with exposed bone that incurred a serious infection that was making its way up his leg. People often lose toes or feet at this advanced stage. Anthony works long hours as a commercial driver but doesn't have health insurance. He was rushed to the hospital and will get the care he needs to hopefully save his foot. Can you imagine the irony of a truck driver losing his foot so he can longer work, all because he could not afford health coverage?