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$5,000 donations help local free clinics administer vaccines

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On Tuesday, Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia administered $5,000 grants to ten free clinics across the state in an effort to aid them in providing flu and pneumonia vaccines to uninsured Georgians.

Two of those grants were given to free clinics in the Southern Crescent, one to the Good Shepherd Clinic in Morrow and another to Hands of Hope Clinic in Stockbridge.

The total grant fund, which amounted to $50,000, also included money for: The Samaritan Clinic in Albany, Mercy Health Center in Athens, Coastal Medical Access Project and Goodwin Community Health Center in Brunswick, The Good News Clinic in Gainesville, Good Samaritan Clinic in Greensboro, Macon Volunteer Clinic in Macon, Compassionate Care Clinic in Milledgeville, and the Houston County Volunteer Medical Clinic in Warner Robins.

Cagle, who applied for the grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, said the money would help aid some of the 1.7 million people in Georgia, who are uninsured, to receive lifesaving vaccines, as well as bring down the cost of health care for other Georgians.

"People are going to the emergency room and getting their health needs in a very high-cost environment," said Cagle. "A family of three pays an additional $1,000 in extra premium costs to cover those that cannot pay. The ability to transfer patients from a high-cost environment into a low-cost environment will significantly bring down the cost of health care."

Cagle said that in areas of Georgia where large numbers of people depend on free clinics, the grants would improve the ability of clinics to administer vaccines to those in need.

Good Shepherd Clinic Administrator Lisa Page said that, under normal circumstances, the clinic often has to refer patients to other clinics to receive vaccinations.

"Usually, we have to send our patients to get flu shots somewhere else," said Page. "This is the very first time we have gotten a grant to do this specifically."

Carol Hawkins, medicine room manager for the Good Shepherd Clinic, said that with the peak flu season quickly approaching, many of the clients they serve are particularly vulnerable. Many of the people who seek care at the clinic are median-aged workers who can't afford health insurance, and at the same time, do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. "We are thrilled to be able to offer this service," said Hawkins.

Adam Stanfield, executive director of Hands of Hope Clinic in Stockbridge, a sister organization to the Good Shepherd Clinic, said the grant represents teamwork between private and government entities. "Getting ready to go into the flu season, it's important to get out in front of the curve as quick as we can," said Stanfield. The grant is "a great way to illustrate how parties can collaborate and bring quick solutions to potential issues."

Cindy Sanders, director of communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia said that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia ranks 44th in the nation for adults receiving flu vaccines and 39th for adults receiving pneumonia vaccines.

"Our goal is to improve those numbers," said Sanders. "Ultimately, we want more adults to have access to those vaccines."

Sanders said Blue Cross Blue Shield worked closely with Cagle to identify areas with the greatest number of elderly and uninsured people, and clinics with the greatest need for vaccines.