Alan Lyford went from paying thousands of dollars a month for health insurance to being uninsured.
The 82-year-old real estate broker fell on hard times during the recession and “flat ran out of money.”
“I dropped the insurance and put food on the table,” he said.
Now, Lyford is among the 2,600 uninsured patients who receive free medical care at the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada’s clinic at Paradise Park, inside the old recreation center. The clinic is staffed by more than 750 volunteers and relies on donated medical supplies, said Dr. Florence Jameson, co-founder and president of Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada.
The nonprofit is now getting ready to establish a second free clinic for those who don’t have access to health care services. It owns an acre of land on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Madison Avenue in downtown Las Vegas, where the new clinic will be built, Jameson said.
But the nonprofit still needs to raise about $1.26 million of the $2.2 million needed for construction, she said. If all the pieces fall into place, the clinic could open as early as next spring.
“It holds a great promise — a promise to people who so desperately need health care,” said Jameson, who struggles to pay the costs associated with Medicare. “This is something we really need to stand behind as a community.”
The clinic at Paradise Park, which opened in 2010 near Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road, serves those who earn minimum wage or are unemployed, can’t afford insurance and are chronically ill, said Rebecca Edgeworth, medical director and one of five paid employees.
The planned downtown clinic also will be open to the homeless and will offer more medical care such as dental and mental health services with extended hours, Jameson said.
Homeless people often suffer from mental illness, said Robert Shiroff, a retired doctor who volunteers at the free clinic.
But many people who suffer from mental issues are in denial about their conditions, said Sue Gaines, president of the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Southern Nevada.
“That’s part of the illness,” she said.
One positive aspect about the clinic is that those who are homeless may seek primary care, which can lead them to other services, Gaines said.
Dental services are also a big need, Shiroff said, and dental issues can lead to other health problems, such as poor nutrition. In Nevada, more than 13 percent of the population goes without access to dental care, according to the nonprofit’s statistics.
Rick Thiriot, assistant professor with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Dental Medicine, said the need for dental services is always present.
Dental care is not a priority for many people, he said.
“They don’t think it’s important,” he said. “There’s is a need to try to educate.”
About 585,000 Nevadans lack health insurance, and even after the federal Affordable Care Act fully kicks in, there will be an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 uninsured people in the state, Jameson said.
“There will always be the uninsured among us,” she said. “We are for the people who don’t have anything. There’s a need, and it’s so huge. There’s so many people out there who are sick just because they have no access to health care.”
The difference that free medical services make for the uninsured is “a matter of life or death,” Lyford said.
He was at the clinic Tuesday because he had unusual swelling in his left leg. He has a history of deep vein thrombosis, which is a clot in a vein, and it poses a danger because it could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, Edgeworth said.
The services Volunteers in Medicine provides at the free clinic are “immeasurable,” Shiroff said.
The clinic gives long-term chronically ill patients access to medication for diabetes, high-blood pressure and high cholesterol among other conditions, he said. It has a huge health impact on patients and provides a financial benefit to society as a whole.
It’s much cheaper to treat people early than have them end up at the emergency room, he said.
“We are looking at a real need in the community,” Shiroff said.
Eventually, Volunteers in Medicine would also like to open a third free clinic in Henderson.
Contact Yesenia Amaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.