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The Community Developer

The Community Developer: Health Care

For community developer and church pianist Marsha Jones, the recession wasn't the impetus for her work to help the residents in the Harrisburg neighborhood of Augusta, Georgia, but it certainly was well timed.

"To be honest ... people in this community have been suffering from a recession for a long time," she says.

Jones had been driving through the Harrisburg neighborhood for a couple of years, watching the impact poverty had on the residents. When an opportunity to work in the neighborhood at St. Luke's United Methodist Church as a community developer came available she jumped at the chance.

Through the help of a local Congressman's widow and the Richland County Medical Association's volunteer arm known as Project Access, Jones was able to open a health clinic for area residents. Medical services aren't free, but they are inexpensive. And no one is turned away.

It's been a Godsend now that the recession has made times even tougher for the low-income neighborhood.

"This past Wednesday, they saw 15 people and Thursday they saw 18," Jones said. "People can come from anywhere in Richmond County — more and more we're getting people from the neighborhood, which is what we want."

The state has a health care program called Peach Care available for qualified children, but the working poor and their children who don't qualify end up going to emergency rooms for most of their medical care, including ear aches and colds, Jones said. The clinic helps stop that practice.

According to a survey by the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2006 there were 119.2 million visits to hospital emergency departments, or 40.5 visits per 100 persons, continuing a long-term rise in both indices.

The rate of visits per 100 persons was 36.1 for white persons, 79.9 for black persons, and 35.3 for Hispanic persons. Emergency department occupancy (the count of patients who had arrived, but not yet discharged, transferred, or admitted) varied from 19,000 patients at 6 a.m. to 58,000 at 7 p.m. on an average day nationally. Though overall emergency visits increased, the number of visits considered emergent or urgent (15.9 million) did not change significantly from 2005, nor did the number of patients arriving by ambulance (18.4 million). At 3.6 percent of visits, the patient had been seen in the same ED within the previous 72 hours.

"Things that could have been taken care of outside the emergency room ... that was definitely part of the motive for wanting to have a health clinic in Harrisburg," she said.

Even more so, Jones wants a real discussion about health care to take place in the United States.

"I don't understand why it's so difficult to have a discussion about healthcare," she said. "I don't have the answer, but it seems to me if you have people in need who are not getting the medical care they need and the costs are so exorbitant that they can't absorb it, then something has to be done.

"Harrisburg is a microcosm for our country and what's happened is that, without being critical or throwing blame, we all want what's best for our children and our families."