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Helping Each Other Clinic Offers Patients Low-Cost Care, Lets Gu Students Hone Skills

Susan Noah doesn’t know why she always feels tired.

The 34-year-old self-employed housekeeper can barely work a half-day without stopping for a nap.

She never sought medical help before because she couldn’t afford it. Now she’s getting treatment at a Gonzaga University-run clinic, and the medical staff is trying to figure out what’s wrong.

“I’m just gratified somebody is helping me,” Noah said.

The clinic at the East Central Community Center gives low-income residents care while the university’s nursing faculty and students get the chance to hone their medical skills.

Noah is being treated by Marla Farmer, an instructor in the GU family-nurse practitioner program.

Farmer is ordering blood and other tests on Noah and consulting with a doctor to determine what’s causing her to tire easily. So far, she said, they haven’t found an answer.

As a family-nurse practitioner, Farmer is licensed to diagnose and prescribe treatments. She can refer patients to a doctor when their medical problems are complicated or require surgery.

At the East Central clinic, patients pay based on their income. There is a minimum $10 fee for an office visit, but the charge could go as high as $35 if someone can afford it.

Noah is one of about 100 patients seen there every month. The clinic is open Mondays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Most patients have no insurance and are too poor to afford the state’s basic health plan.

“We have people who don’t have any other means,” said Diane Jennings, director of the community center at Fifth and Stone.

Patients come mostly from the East Central neighborhood, but the clinic doesn’t refuse people from other parts of the city. Noah lives on the North Side.

The Gonzaga faculty opened the clinic in 1994 after an earlier clinic closed when it lost a federal subsidy. Now the community center combines private donations and $17,000 from the City Council to keep it open.

Gonzaga faculty said the clinic gives them a chance to provide a service as part of the university’s goal of helping people, especially the needy, off campus.

The two faculty members who practice at the clinic use the time to improve their own medical skills. Also, the clinic provides two slots for students in the family-nurse practitioner program who need clinical experience to earn degrees.

Education and prevention are stressed, like encouraging a low-fat, low-sodium diet for someone with heart disease or high blood pressure.

Some patients showing up at the clinic have serious conditions that have gone untreated for years.

Farmer and assistant professor Jim Pittman said they’ve seen patients with heart disease, hepatitis, diabetes and serious disabilities.

Recently, Farmer saw a woman in her mid-50s who needs surgery for an arthritic hip, but the woman has no health insurance. She already is having trouble getting the money to buy prescription drugs for her other health problems, like high blood pressure.

In some cases, the practitioners help patients cope with their problems until they can get insurance or public assistance. They also do their share of child checkups and sports physicals for neighborhood youths.

The faculty members said they are building a network of doctors in the area who are willing to provide treatment at reduced fees so they can refer patients to them.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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