I called the clinic where I’ve been a patient for thirty-five years. This clinic is under new corporate management. The last corporation that operated the clinic came in more like a hostile takeover than with any intent to provide medical services. They left abruptly taking everything in the building, except the dust-foodles, with them. The doctors reorganized and set up a partnership with the current corporation. I was aware the clinic was having financial troubles and asking for donations from the community. I’m also aware that they received several hundred thousand dollars in donations.
The clinic has been featured in the local paper where the director alleges their problems are due to lack of support from the community, and will we please donate more money. They assure us they can continue to serve us if they can get enough patients.
So, I called the clinic. The appointment clerk is someone in an off-site office who doesn’t know where Vashon is or that it is an island served by ferry boats. The off-site clerk assured me that I could not see a doctor today, but if I call at eight AM tomorrow, I might get an appointment tomorrow.
“Can I make an appointment today to see the doctor tomorrow?”
I finally got the clerk to confess that if I wanted to see a doctor anytime in the next four days, I needed to call at eight AM to see if they have an opening that day. This was unacceptable.
Not being able to see my regular doctor and really feeling too sick to take the ferry off island, I did what any modern woman does. I posted my problems on the local Facebook page and asked if anybody knew what I should do.
The best suggestion from the rest of the community was to walk into the clinic and ask to see the nurse. Okay, I walked in and waited almost an hour to see the nurse. She didn’t want to look at my symptoms. She let me sit before she explained in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t see a doctor, and if I wanted to see one, I could participate in the eight AM call-in system that works more like a lottery than a business protocol.
I decided to get concrete and specific. “Okay, I understand I can’t see a doctor here. Do you know of a doctor on the island I can see.”
“Okay, so I need to leave the island. Can you call the ER at Swedish and tell them I’m coming in?"
“No. I can’t do that. I don’t recommend going there because this isn’t life threatening.”
I hung in there. “Okay, what I need from you is some sort of workable game plan. Can you tell me where I can go to get a prescription for antibiotics.”
Finally, she suggested I try a urgent care clinic off island.
I took the ferry and got in to see a nurse practitioner, who glanced fearfully at my infection and called in a prescription for an antibiotic.
My next challenge was to get on a ferry-boat that would get me home before the pharmacy on the island closed. I managed to catch my ferry and get the anti-biotic. It took me a total of ten hours from the time I started looking for help until I was able to get the medication I needed. By this time, the infection was much worse, and I’d wasted a whole day. I took my pill went to bed and slept for twelve hours.
I still need to see a doctor to find out what is going on that I got so sick so fast. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I have a relationship with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. They can get me in tomorrow to see a doctor and assess what is going on.
My experience is the state of medical care in this country. The problem really is based on profits. The local clinic tries to save money by not staffing for same-day patients. Well-patient checks are just more profitable than dealing with sick people. I suppose well people are more pleasant to deal with. The clinic staff may have thought I was being cranky, asking them if they had a list of referrals for patients they couldn’t work in to their schedule. I insisted the nurse answer my questions about where I could get appropriate care. They will certainly bill my insurance for more than my brief chat with the nurse was worth.
For years, I’ve watched the progress of the policy of having for-profit corporations provide human services. The practice seems to work for the corporation. They’ll get paid for my visit to the clinic yesterday, but they didn’t provide a service other than the two minutes the nurse spent trying to get out of talking to me.
We need to make changes. Clinics do need enough income to pay their employees, but they also need to provide appropriate medical services. The type of profiteering I see locally is totally unacceptable.