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Saint Joseph's Charity Care Fund Offers Service & Comfort

February 15, 2010
season to share St. Joseph's Charity Care Fund offers service and comfort By Jim Armstrong The Denver Post Posted: 01/17/2010 01:00:00 AM MST Updated: 01/17/2010 02:09:33 AM MST Catherine Garcia talks to Dr. Rachel Gaffney, a physician at Seton Women's Center at St. Joseph Hospital, as Dr. Matthew Renner checks her blood pressure. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post )At 43, Catherine Garcia is a snapshot of middle-class America and the values it embraces. She and her husband run a small delivery business and live in the Denver area with their four children, including a baby girl. There's just one thing wrong with this picture: She doesn't have health insurance. "We make enough that we don't qualify for any sort of assistance," Garcia said. "If we paid for our family of six, we wouldn't have any money left. So this place is a great comfort." That place is the Seton Women's Center on the Exempla St. Joseph Hospital campus. Garcia is here on this day for an OB/GYN checkup. But her next visit may be just that — a visit. "A lot of these people are my friends," Garcia said. "I have one girl just over 2 and a newborn, so they know me here. I definitely bring the girls by to visit." In addition to having two babies at the clinic, Garcia went through two miscarriages. "I've been through a lot with these people, and they've really supported me through everything." And it hasn't cost her more than she can afford to pay. Garcia receives financial aid through the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation's Charity Care Fund. The foundation has applied for funding through The Post's Season to Share program benefiting Denver-area charities. The foundation was established in 1977 to provide health care for those who otherwise couldn't afford it. And business is brisk. The hospital's four clinics, including the Seton Women's Center, serviced about 50,000 patients in the past year, and a large percentage didn't have health insurance. "If a patient comes to one of our four clinics, the hospital takes care of all of the patient's needs," said Carl Unrein, the foundation's chief executive. "The Charity Care Fund helps with specialty care if, for instance, we need to refer a patient to a cardiologist or an orthopedic surgeon or if they need pharmaceuticals." The need for pharmaceuticals, Unrein said, outstrips many people's ability to pay for them. By providing them for patients, the clinic often prevents major medical issues from arising, easing the strain on the hospital system. "If they get their prescriptions, we keep them out of the emergency room," Unrein said. "We see it over and over again where somebody who can't afford prescriptions lands in the emergency room because they couldn't get medication. It's a constant, vicious cycle." There's no profile of the typical patient who receives care through the foundation or the Charity Care Fund. Patients are treated from cradle to grave. Some have common colds, others have advanced cancer. Some are in their 20s, others were born in the '20s. Some are U.S. citizens with homes, others are undocumented and living on the streets. The mantra, in essence, is come one, come all. It has been that way since 1873, when the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth arrived. "We're all made in the image and likeness of God," Unrein said. "You're a human being and you need to be treated with dignity and respect, even if you're in a compromising situation." They're treated at St. Joseph just like patients who are fully insured. Garcia isn't one of the homeless or desperate by any stretch, but she has felt the stigma of being uninsured. "I've seen people who obviously aren't as well off as my family is, but everyone is treated equally here," she said. "I've been to different clinics and it's kind of like you're treated differently because of not having insurance. But they don't frown on you here because of that. "Everybody has their own set of circumstances, and they understand that." Jim Armstrong: 303-954-1269 or jmarmstrong@denverpost.com Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/seasontoshare/ci_14208688#ixzz0fd9aeUAJ