The face of the uninsured: Conclusion of the three-part series

BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG —This is the conclusion of my daughter Tracey’s quest to obtain medical assistance for a life-threatening condition and how the dwindling of health insurance options for the poor and dis-enfranchised has impacted that care.

Diagnosed with an unknown mass and cyst on June 1 at Bayfront Emergency room, she went to Pinellas County Human Services, enrolled in the Public Health Program and became a patient at Bayside Health Clinic.

Weeks after my daughter’s diagnosis and the subsequent approval process by medical agencies, she went through bouts of intense pain without the benefit of prescription pain medication. It was the waiting and unknown that drained her strength and hope.

But she’s a fighter. At one moment buoyed by courage and stubbornness and at the next calling out to me in that small voice from years ago when she was a child.  We pushed on.

My daughter’s next stop was an exam at Bayfront OB/GYN Center. The system of checks and balances at this point seemed to bog down a possible mixture of ineptness and case overload, which seemed to conspire to create the perfect storm. They examined her and ordered CA1 and C23 cancer screening tests.

“I went to have my blood draw at Quest Diagnostics, and about a week later was informed that the blood work was lost and had to be repeated,” said Tracey.

The results were negative.

Upon examination, an ultrasound again confirmed the presence of a mass and cyst and was determined that surgery would be needed. However, another complication appeared due to Tracey having previous abdominal surgery and fears of intrusive scar tissue had to be eliminated. She would have to see a gastroenterologist before they could proceed with the surgery.

More valuable time was lost when the assistant handed Tracey a blank referral sheet and informed that she had to locate her own GI specialist that was part of the network of doctors available. Tracey was on her own as she made call after call.

Finally, a doctor in the network was found and once again approval was needed from Bayside Clinic. On Aug. 4, I called Bayside Clinic demanding to know where the approval was.  A gentleman placed me on hold and came back claiming that they had just received the request. Within 15 minutes he called back to confirm that approval had been granted and Tracey could schedule an appointment.

On Aug. 24, Tracey had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy performed by Florida Digestive Specialists, both were free of cancer. The results were then sent back to Bayside Health and finally, Tracey was given approval for the gynecological surgery Nov. 16.

The surgery, however, was also a time of frustration and delays. Surgery was scheduled at 11 a.m. but due to emergencies, it was canceled three times until 4 p.m. when after surgeons could not promise a start time that night, it was rescheduled for the following Monday.

Uninsured, featuredIt has been a laborious six-month-journey that began in June and ended successfully in Nov. For the medically uninsured, the pathway is strewn with forms, authorizations and long waiting times for treatment. The facilities involved say they are doing their job to the best of their ability.

“Access to care is one of our health priority areas. We continue to work with

Pinellas County Human Services to meet the needs and fill the gaps for low-income, uninsured individuals,” stated Maggie Hall of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. “We will continue to strive to provide comprehensive care that is both timely and of high quality.”

I do not question their motives or resolve and I am thankful for my daughter’s life.  I think it is a matter of money, or lack thereof, increased caseloads and dwindling options that paint a picture of neglect for the uninsured.

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