Prescription? Caffeine!

Jenny Scarborough

Today half and half has new meaning at the Ocracoke Coffee Co.

Owners Justin and Joelle LeBlanc are donating half of Saturday's revenues to the Ocracoke Health Center, a non-profit clinic that serves residents and visitors. Response so far has been good, said Joelle. "People came early. Some people came and dropped off checks." Her fingers are crossed that this afternoon will continue to bring in customers that will intentionally or inadvertently support quality, affordable health care on Ocracoke.

Zoe, Erin and Kenny on the porch of Ocracoke Coffee Co.
Zoe, Erin and Kenny on the porch of Ocracoke Coffee Co.

"Medicine isn't a money making game, especially at the clinic level," said Dr. Erin Baker, who was having a mid-morning cup while her daughter, Zoe, enjoyed orange juice.

The Health Center relies on patient revenues, Occupancy Tax money, and grants to operate, and manages to keep its doors open and level of service high despite a perpetual dearth of funding.

The idea to host a fundraiser formed when clinic employee Kenny Ballance asked Joelle to make something for a Bake Sale in June. "Why are you having a bake sale?" Joelle wanted to know. Budget cuts at the state level mean grant funds may be in jeopardy as early as 2014, and the clinic also has a wish list of equipment that will enhance patient care.

Justin and Joelle considered making a private donation to the clinic, but decided to "open it up and begin to let people know there is a need," said Joelle. They hope to be able to make a $1000 donation at the end of the day.

"Most clinics don't do what we do. This clinic does a lot of urgent care," said Dr. Baker. The Health Center acts as both an ER and urgent care facility because the nearest hospital is two hours away, but must bill as a clinic. A hospital will get more money for the same care, explained Dr. Baker. Levels of billing are dictated by the complexities of the American health care system, which defines what different facilities can bill, and involves private insurance companies, which set the level they are willing to pay, regardless of the actual cost of care.

Dr. Baker offered an example. If Blue Cross Blue Shield decides a vaccine is worth $23, that is what the health center can recover, even if it costs them $88. That doesn't factor in the costs of care provider time, or facility and clerical costs.

One reason face time with doctors in other places is so brief is because seeing a lot of patients makes money. On Ocracoke, the population would have to be sickly indeed to book a patient every ten or 15 minutes. "Nor do I want to provide that level of care," said Dr. Baker. "I support socialized medicine and believe in access to care. That's one reason I like this job."

Talk to Facility Coordinator Cheryl Ballance, said Dr. Baker, Kenny, and Joelle. She is incredibly smart, dedicated and committed to affordable care on Ocracoke, said Dr. Baker. Saturday is also one of her few days off, so Ocracoke Current will be following up with her to provide more information about the challenges of funding our community clinic.

At the spring 2013 Occupancy Tax meeting, Cheryl said that private companies are not interested in taking over the Ocracoke Health Center. Because of the island's small population, it will never be a profitable business. The clinic in Hatteras village was taken over by a for-profit industry, and then closed its doors two years ago.

The Ocracoke Health Center keeps regular business hours Monday through Friday, and a primary care provider is on call 24-7 for emergencies.

A prescription for some afternoon caffeine or smoothie or muffin or cinnamon bun is good for you, and today it's good for the Health Center as well.



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