"About 10 percent of our community is without health care coverage of any kind," said Nikki Rhea, executive director of Health Care Access of Douglas County. "That means if somebody has a cold, the flu or something more chronic like diabetes or hypertension, that's a real problem."
Rhea is a member of the Community Health Improvement Project task force that aims to have all county residents covered by health insurance.
"That goal of 100 percent is very important to not only the individuals that are in need of health care, but as a community," she said. "If you've got healthy workers, that means they're more productive, they're at work more often. It makes sense both individually and economically for everybody to be covered in some way for their health care."
The number of people in the county without insurance falls between 8,000 and 10,000.
"It's quite significant," she said.
And only about 1,000 of those people are taking advantage of Health Care Access, a nonprofit organization located at 1920 Moodie Road that provides low-cost medical services.
Many people don't see a nurse or doctor for fear of mounting medical bills.
"They scrounge up enough money to go to that initial visit and the physician says, 'Gosh it looks like you have something horrendous' and it's going to cost a lot of money to get treated," Rhea said. "So they may leave that physicians office thinking 'I may have something terrible and I have no money to find out whether I really do or to get it taken care of' so they may wander around for months or ever years wondering when this time bomb is going to explode in their body."
That scenario is harmful to the individual and the community, and both end up paying for it in the long run.
"If they wait and have to go to the emergency room for their care, not only is their condition in worse shape than if they would have found a primary care agency like ours, it's going to cost the health care system a lot more money to treat that condition," Rhea said.
In October, Health Care Access will add a therapist from the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to its volunteer staff. Currently, about 100 health care providers volunteer their services.
"Between the contributions of our volunteers and medication programs from pharmaceutical companies -- all that in-kind service to help our patients was worth almost a million dollars last year," Rhea said.
She said the top five diagnoses at Health Care Access are hypertension, diabetes, bronchitis, upper respiratory infection and depression.
-- 6News reporter Kim Hall can be reached at 832-6326.