Judy Eyerly, executive director of Health Care Access, has good reason to believe that national health care is a possibility in this country: She saw such a program at work while living in England for several years.
Eyerly said she wouldn't even mind if a national health care program meant the end to Health Care Access, which provides health-care services to low-income residents in Douglas County.
"Our goal," Eyerly said, "is to be put out of business because the government takes our job over."
However, Eyerly imagines that Health Care Access will be helping a lot of people before that day rolls around.
Eyerly was instrumental in getting Health Care Access off the ground back in February 1989. She was hired by the agency's board of directors while she was a VISTA volunteer for the purpose of finding the necessary resources, volunteers and funding to get the agency up and running. Health Care Access began offering services in June 1989.
Eyerly no longer is a volunteer with VISTA, which stands for Volunteers in Service to America, but VISTA volunteers still work at her agency.
SHE SAID THAT thanks to numerous contributions from the community and a $90,200 grant recently awarded to Health Care Access by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the clinic's budget this year will hit a record high of about $165,000.
That budget will allow the agency to expand its operating hours from four to six hours a week to full time. Now, about 75 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health-care workers donate their time to the clinic, which provides people with primary health care and emergency dental care, as well as assistance in paying for prescriptions.
Eyerly, 38, said she didn't actually begin her career in the health-care field. For several years, she owned her own business in her hometown of St. Louis.
"I didn't find that very satisfying. You know, you're sort of only working to take care of yourself," Eyerly said. "I had wanted to get into social services for a long time, but I had sort of this fear and trepidation because I didn't really know what I would be getting into."
SHE ENDED UP moving to England and landing a job in a drug rehabilitation clinic.
"It was a residential position, so I lived there as well as worked there, and it became a little intense sometimes," Eyerly recalled.
However, she said, the six-day-a-week job was highly rewarding in that "a lot of people turned their life around."
Eyerly said it was when she moved back to the United States in 1987 that she realized the great advantage Britons had over Americans in being covered by a national health-care plan.
"Immediately, practically upon landing, everybody was saying, `You need to get health insurance!'" Eyerly said of her return to the states. "Trying to find insurance as a single individual, the costs were very high.
"I just became really aware of what a luxury it was to be living in a country where you didn't have to be concerned with that, where you could just go to the physician when you needed to. The costs of the prescriptions were very reasonable. There was a co-pay for all of them, but it certainly wasn't out of bounds. You could afford it."
FOR THAT REASON, Eyerly said, "When I first heard about Health Care Access, I knew it was something that I wanted to get involved with."
"It's appalling sometimes the families and individuals that you see," she said. "They can make enough money to afford the basic necessities of food and shelter, but any type of health care is just out of reach.
"Why should they have to make that choice between paying their rent and paying their health care costs?"
Eyerly said Lawrence is to be commended for helping create an agency such as Health Care Access.
"Lawrence has a lot to be proud of," she said. "Some leading community people came together and said, `There's a problem here,' and started looking at what could be done. When people here decide something is worth doing, they do it well."
Eyerly said the caring nature of the Lawrence community was just one reason she decided to settle here for awhile.
"I'D LIVED IN St. Louis all my life. I just wanted to do something different, and I knew some folks who lived here," Eyerly said. "I didn't intend to stay here. I thought this was just a stepping stone to Oregon, but here I am five years later.
"I've come to really like Lawrence."
Health Care Access will hold an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at the new center, 1920 Moodie Rd.