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Health Workers Devote Time to Uninsured

Martin Luther King Jr. Day brings civil service in the form of free health care.

Legendary civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered on Monday as more than a hundred community members and health professionals devoted their time the uninsured in Northern Virginia.

The program, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic region, was in its second year for the metropolitan Washington, D.C.-area and its first in Northern Virginia. Uninsured area residents taking part received free health screenings, physicals, x-rays and laboratory blood examinations, amongst other services, at the organization's Springfield health center.

The idea to begin the service, came from a desire from many of the workers and health professionals within Kaiser Permanente to make a day of service out of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to Dr. Phil Carney, Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic regional medical director.

"We were out working on various service projects, but we realized, we have medical facilities, we have health care professionals available to us," Carney said, "so why not use these resources as a community service?"

Offering the health care for the uninsured is not as much of an act of charity as it is helping out hard-working people without employer access to health insurance, Carney added.

"There is a rising problem of too many people being uninsured in this country," he said. "And you look at them and they are hard-working people whose jobs just don't provide health care."

THE APPROXIMATELY 300 people registered to attend the Northern Virginia event called about two months in advance of the clinic to be screened for eligibility, said Sandra Gregg, vice president of external relations for Kaiser Permanente.

After undergoing whatever examinations that the patients requested or were eligible for, they received the results and were given a 30-day supply of any necessary pharmaceuticals as well as an introduction to representatives from county health departments for continuing care.

For Alexandria resident Nassian Khalife, who works part time for Fairfax County and as a result does not qualify for health insurance, the examinations are important.

"It's a good opportunity for me because now I can go and get a health check-up once a year, to make sure that I know if anything is wrong before it gets bad," Khalife said. "Too many people go too long without check-ups and then they have a heart attack or get sick. This way, you know what is going on inside your body."

THE EVENT IS just one part of a multi-faceted effort by Kaiser Permanente to help bring health care to the uninsured and ineligible for Medicare and Medicaid, Gregg added.

Along with the now annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, the healthcare provider offers a bridge program to receive easily affordable health insurance to more than 4,000 residents on a two-year basis, she said. Ongoing efforts to finance other Washington, D.C.-area free clinics like the Whitman Walker Clinic and the Arlington Free Clinic help round out the approach towards getting health care to those who cannot afford it, according to Gregg.

"For those clinics and these programs that are available to the community that provide a safety net for those without insurance, it's a wonderful service," Gregg said. "We try and use our resources in a large number of places to try and get as many people as possible access to health care."

WHEN PRIVATE, professional health clinics open their doors to the uninsured, it is a major advantage for anyone in need of health care, said Germain Andino-Rexach, a 21-year-old Springfield resident and volunteer at the event. Andino-Rexach works regularly as a medical assistant at a free clinic at Northern Virginia Community College.

"It's great because here they have a lot of the services that you can't get at a free clinic," like x-rays and other advanced equipment, Andino-Rexach said. "Normally, free clinics have to send people out for that."

Contributing to the community on days off from work to honor national heroes like Martin Luther King has been a great experience, Andino-Rexach added.

"Getting out here and doing something for people, it's real important," he said. "It's definitely a lot better than sitting at home and watching T.V. and not doing anything on your day off."