Free charitable health clinics like the West Virginia Health Right in Charleston play an important role in helping those in poverty or those without insurance get access to necessary medical care. However, the medical and financial impacts of the coronavirus are putting a large strain on Health Right and organizations like it.
In response to the pandemic, West Virginia Health Right is offering testing to the state’s most vulnerable communities at a mobile clinic at Manna Meal Soup Kitchen. West Virginia Health Right Executive Director and CEO Dr. Angie Settle spoke with reporter Corey Knollinger about how the organization is adapting.
***Editor's Note: The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
Corey Knollinger: How has everything that's been kind of going on economically with the Coronavirus impacted the amount of people you're seeing?
Dr. Angie Settle: What we've seen since the COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, an increase in unemployment. More small businesses shuttering their doors. So suddenly a lot of people without income, especially disposable income for things like medications, and healthcare. So we've seen about a 400 percent increase in demand for medications in our pharmacy, and, you know, supply and demand is real. So, a lot of the medications across the country, the prices are skyrocketing. We're able to get some medication through drug programs normally, but even those are limited at this time because of staffing, cutbacks at drug companies and things being delayed. So we're having to buy a lot more medications than we typically would.
Knollinger: Well I was about to ask, is there any concern about sustainability at this time?
Dr. Settle: The thing is, is Health Right is kind of the last resort for a lot of people, we are the safety net provider. When people go through other means, and they've tried other places and they can't get care, they come to us. So, I feel responsible to make sure that we can take care of those people. I don't want to be the one that closes the door and tells somebody, “You can't have that blood pressure medicine, or you can't have cholesterol medicine or your seizure medicine,” or anything like that. So, we're just responding to the needs of the community as they come in. And funding is kind of an afterthought, and we're just hoping that those that can help us will contribute to the cause because we're all here for each other, trying to help fellow West Virginians in need right now. Down the road, I know there's talk of different federal programs and things that can help but that doesn't help you in the short term, you know, in the next 30 days when the bills come in. So, I'm not ready to say that now of course, we would have to make tough choices, but I'm definitely not ready to throw in the towel. I'm committed to making this work for our patients.
Knollinger: What are some of the challenges you guys didn't expect in the face of this pandemic that you've kind of seen now?
Dr. Settle: I don't know that I necessarily foresaw the shuttering of the doors and the huge spike in unemployment connected to this disease. Honestly, I didn't think about the huge increase in drug pricing and cost. You know, gloves, everything you can imagine. We were desperate for some masks about 10 days ago, and I actually found some on Amazon and paid probably twice what I should have, but we have to take care of our staff. So probably that would be the biggest thing -- realizing [COVID-19] was coming and everything, but I didn't really think about the impact of closing the whole community and having that many people in need and with loss of income.
Knollinger: What gives you hope throughout this whole situation? We've seen some pretty incredible things happen across the state but what has specifically given you hope?
Dr. Settle: I think what's given me hope is just even looking at my staff and looking at the medical personnel that are getting up every day, going out there to do this job, putting ourselves in harm's way. I know it's hard for people to shelter in place and stay home, but for us that have to get up every day and it's like a normal day going to work except for heightened risk and everything. We do that because we love this state. We love our community; we love the professions that we chose. I've just been blessed to see the great attitudes in my staff right where they're needed. Like I said, we're down there at Manna Meal, trying to get the homeless screened and tested, and that's a benefit to everybody. You know, unlike those of us that have insurance and have the opportunity and transportation to get to our providers, the homeless don't have that luxury. So we need to make sure that somebody stands in the gap for them and they have access to get the same test that we can get if it's needed. And it benefits everybody that they're not clogging up the ER just to be tested because they don't have access anywhere else; that we can notify those patients as well and help themselves quarantine and protect the public as a whole.
Knollinger: And then what can we do as a whole, for some of our more vulnerable communities, like those without permanent housing, in this time?
Dr. Settle: We need to keep an eye out for each other. And if you see somebody in distress or whatever, you know, don't ignore them, you need to let somebody know so that we can help each other, but we don't want to be panicked -- just using good common sense and keeping an eye out for everybody. And our organization, we'll be keeping an eye out for those in our community, but there's other communities across the state where people need to keep an eye out for each other. But we want to be there for them, see them through and make sure that if they need that next step of hospitalization or whatever, that we're there for them and can help them do that and get assistance.
Their clinic at Manna Meal is open Monday Through Friday from 8AM to 4PM.
For more information about the West Virginia Health Right, head to their website at wvhealthright.org.