Nearly every doctor in Lawrence sets aside traditional billing practices on a regular basis to see patients who desperately need medical attention but can't afford it.
Those doctors about 80 of them volunteer their services through Health Care Access, a clinic that provides free or low-cost health care to uninsured, low-income individuals in Douglas County.
And though the medical professionals don't do it because they're seeking pats on the back, the Health Care Access board at a reception Friday evening recognized the physicians' service to a community in need.
"There isn't a day that goes by that they don't help us out," said Betsy McCafferty, a nurse at the Health Care Access Clinic, 1920 Moodie Road. "It makes you proud to be in Lawrence."
For each of the past two years, Health Care Access has provided $1 million in medical services to the area's poor and uninsured, executive director Nikki Rhea said. That was on a tangible budget of just $350,000. The additional $650,000 came in the form of services that local physicians provided to Health Care Access patients who needed care in excess of what the clinic could provide.
Despite the invaluable role they play, many of the "volunteer docs," as they're called, shy away from receiving praise and recognition for their work.
"I think patients just need to be treated, whether they have the money to pay for it or not," said Christopher Penn, an infectious disease specialist and Health Care Access volunteer.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., spoke at Friday's reception, thanking the clinic and its volunteers.
"We have so much wealth in this country, and yet we have a health-care delivery system that is really lacking in some respects," he said. "You are really filling an important gap."
He said Congress needed to work on legislation to give tax credits to small businesses as incentives to provide health insurance to their employees. He also said that, as the country gets further away from the events of Sept. 11, Congress needs to return to discussions of a patient's bill of rights.
Since Health Care Access opened in 1989, the clinic has served more than 7,400 people for anything from acute illness to chronic disease. Last year alone, Health Care Access volunteers provided 2,729 hours of medical care for 1,061 patients.
"I think it's a way for them to reconnect to why they really got into medicine in the first place," Rhea said.