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Flying Healthy: AeroClinic serves airport workers, passengers

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By M.J. Subiria Arauz

msubiria@news-daily.com

After receiving an injection from a medical assistant at The AeroClinic at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Kari Fowler was relieved the process was over.

Fowler, a flight attendant for Pinnacle Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier, said she was suffering from a clogged ear while on a flight. She said ears should pop as an airplane flies higher, but in her case they weren't.

"My ear refused to pop, which is very bad when you're on a plane working," she said.

She said that as a flight attendant, she was taught how to handle the situation and tried different methods to unclog her ear, including putting hot water in a cup and placing her ear inside it, but nothing worked.

Fowler said she was in pain and was glad The AeroClinic was on hand at Hartsfield-Jackson.

"It is really, really, really important," Fowler said of the clinic. "This could've been an emergency. I was in a lot of pain."

She said last year she experienced an on-the-job injury when she accidentally smashed her finger in an ice drawer, while onboard an airplane, and that the clinic X-rayed it.

"Everybody in here is really good at what they do," said Fowler.

She said she lives in Marietta, and that it could take as long as two hours to get from the airport to see her primary doctor there.

Khalid Burnett, a ramp agent for Delta Air Lines, said he was at the clinic for a drug test.

"If something comes up, like an injury, it's good to have medical care on the spot," he said.

Burnett said he has been working for the airline for five years and has visited the clinic before, because of an on-the-job back injury.

"It's nice," said Burnett about the clinic.

The AeroClinic is located on the third floor of the airport's atrium. The walk-in clinic is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m., to 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m., to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m., to 7 p.m.

Dr. Jovito Estaris, medical director for The AeroClinic at Hartsfield-Jackson, said the clinic offers occupational medicine to most employees at the airport.

"We take care of worker injuries and illnesses," he said. "If they are injured, including cuts, sprains and strains, they come here."

The services the clinic offers include drug tests, breath alcohol testing, hearing tests and physical therapy, said Estaris.

Several companies at Hartsfield-Jackson that use The AeroClinic include Delta Air Lines, AirTran Airways, the Transportation Security Administration and HMSHost, a concessions provider for the traveling public, said the doctor.

"Our big customer is Delta," said Estaris.

Travel medicine is also provided for employees and passengers at the clinic, he said.

It is a branch of medicine that seeks to prevent and manage the health issues of international travelers, according to Estaris.

For example, he said, travelers who are flying to Africa should get injections to prevent yellow fever and malaria. Travelers are also educated about the specific diseases one may encounter in a given country, how to prevent and treat them, what medicines to take abroad and the nearest clinics accessible, he said.

The clinic's urgent care service is open to both passengers and employees, he said.

Estaris said airport employees who don't have medical insurance pay $50 for an office visit and passengers pay $80 for the same service.

The doctor said fees may be added if the patient needs extra services, such as an X-ray or an injection.

He said the medical insurance the clinic accepts includes CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Aetna and TRICARE.

"We don't accept Medicare or Medicaid," said Estaris.

People with health issues such as colds, coughs, vomiting, ear aches and diarrhea, visit the clinic for treatment, said Estaris.

Estaris said not a lot of passengers know of The AeroClinic's existence at the airport and the services it provides.

"A lot of ... people come here and say, 'I didn't know you were here,'" he said.

There is no appointment necessary for passengers or employees to see a doctor, said Estaris.

Estaris said he has been at the clinic for two years and added that traffic for the urgent care service has been slow.

"Since I've been here, business has improved tremendously, though the last two months were kind of slow," he said.

He said the tough economy may be to blame for the slow traffic.

There has also been a slow-down in troop traffic, he said. Estaris said he used to see 10 to 12 troops per day, but this year he may see one a day.

"Most of the urgent-care patients were soldiers," he said.