On the seventh floor of an office building on the south side of downtown, the Houston Service Workers Clinic is easy to miss. It’s not fancy or very spacious, but it does play a big part in the lives of hundreds of local janitors, workers like Maria Elena Guichard.
“Before, I didn’t have insurance, I didn’t know what I was going to do because I didn’t have money to pay for all the things that I needed for my clinic.”
Guichard is one of about 1000 janitors who pay $20 a month for unlimited visits to the clinic. Their employers pay the balance of the monthly insurance premium.
“You can come any time and you can prevent illness and that’s cheaper for me, because if I know what I have or my sickness, I can prevent from going to the emergency room, which is more affordable for me.”
The Houston Service Workers Clinic is the result of a 2006 janitors strike. The month-long work stoppage resulted in a deal that included access to affordable medical care. Dr. Adriana Linares is the medical director of the clinic. She and her small staff see between 10-15 patients a day.
“They like to come and see me. They feel like I know them and I feel like they know me, so we have a good relationship. This is the way I have always been and the clinic is important because we’re seeing people who have never been at a doctor before. We are seeing people with a lot of diseases that they have not taken care of in the past.”
Since the clinic opened, the results have been impressive. Because of the unlimited access, members actually get regular check-ups more often than the general population. They’re also using emergency rooms for primary health care a lot less. Dr. John Rogers is with Baylor College of Medicine, which provides the medical care at the clinic. He says the preventive care benefits are obvious.
“They might have a minor illness and feel bad, but they don’t go in because it’s not really, really making them sick, but it might be an early warning sign of a more serious disease. For a lot of these folks, they’ve just had to wait until they were critically ill before they would get help. Now they can find those problems early and get them taken care of.”
Houston Congressman Al Green says the Houston Service Workers Clinic is a great example of a way to provide affordable health care for everyone.
“It’s a good paradigm to demonstrate to us that there is a means by which we can make sure that people get the proper insurance and the kind of coverage that they need, help that they need, such that we can get into preventive care.”
He says the Houston Service Workers Clinic is one example of something that works, with results that could be part of the solution to the nation’s current health care problem.
Jack Williams. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.