Pocatello Free Clinic sees patient increase, funding decrease

POCATELLO, Idaho - The Pocatello Free Clinic is seeing double. That is, double the patients, but half the funding.

Mindy Hong, the clinic's executive director, said the decrease in funding is largely due to some misconceptions surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"The Affordable Care Act went into effect this year and a lot of people have this misconception that everybody has health insurance now, but that's simply not true," Hong added. "So, our donors are specifically saying that they are not going to give as many charitable services this year in the health care field because everyone is supposed to have health insurance now."

A lot of people who have dental insurance don't get the full coverage for the services they need for preventative care, so they have to choose to use the free clinic instead of making those pricey dentist appointments.

Patient David Tanner just came back for his second visit in two months on Monday. In addition to the free services the clinic provides, Tanner, who does not have health or dental insurance, said he prefers the clinic over the regular dentist.

"Regular dentists have a tendency to want to get a too much done too fast that way they see more customers, but here you get a little more individual care," Tanner said.

Hong said the clinic saw 1,400 patients in 2013 and this year it has already matched that number within the first six months of this year alone.

She said some people who can't afford to go to the dentist are heading down less viable paths to getting help, such as using the emergency room.

"They are starting to use the emergency room as an urgent care, but it doesn't make sense economically for both themselves or the community because the community ends up picking up the tab in most cases," Hong said. 

She said this could be avoided if the free clinic had enough funding to help intervene.

She said the Portneuf Medical Center donated $25,000 this year, which free clinic officials are grateful for. 

In September the the Portneuf Health Care Foundation donated the same amount to the clinic.

Hong said funding also comes from Bannock County and the United Way of Southeast Idaho.

She also mentioned that the clinic is starting a new program called the Healthy Living Incentive Program, which is designed to promote healthy behaviors in our regional, low-income population.

The clinic will offer a number of activities to promote health interventions to improve the health outcomes for people who cannot access those resources.

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