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Casino Night To Benefit Neighborhood Health Services

Uninsured and Medicaid patients to benefit from event.

Monte Carlo is coming to Alexandria on Thursday, June 28. But lucky blackjack and roulette players will not be the only ones who will win out that night. All proceeds go to the Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, Inc., a federally qualified healthcare center that provides quality healthcare to those that have trouble with access in northern Virginia.

As executive director Martha Wooten describes, the mission of ANHSI is to provide healthcare to "individuals who otherwise would have problems having that access." For many of these patients, there exist a variety of barriers to decent healthcare, including "financial barriers, language barriers, location barriers."

The non-profit organization began in 1997, as a means to provide pediatric care to mainly children in the Arlandia neighborhood. The organization had modest origins, headquartered in a low-income apartment complex in the Arlandia neighborhood.

"We were in a small basement, and we only had five exam rooms for all the specialties: pediatrics, OBGYN, special care," said pediatrician Dr. Pilar Tam, when she began to work for ANHSI in 2005. "So we did not have the chance to see a lot of patients, because space was an issue."

SINCE THEN, the organization has grown. ANHSI went from serving 1,516 unduplicated patients in 1997 to 12,998 in 2011, an over eightfold increase in 15 years. In 2011, ANHSI provided 42,938 healthcare visits, which included 1,417 dental visits and 2,136 mental health visits. The organization also processed more than 4,000 medication requests, a service that helps patients access free pharmaceutical care. These medication requests helped save ANHSI patients a total of $1.8 million in 2011.

ANHSI serves an underserved community of families. About 78 percent of all patients have no form of insurance ā€” this includes 90 percent of the adult and 30 percent of the child patients ā€” and 47 percent of all patients live below the federal poverty line.

About a majority of patients are non-English speakers. About 65 percent of ANHSI patients are Spanish speaking, and are unfamiliar with the American healthcare system.

This inexperience with American healthcare can exacerbate health issues. "Our patients are oftentimes sicker, because they usually delay accessing healthcare because of the affordability issue," said Wooten. "So very often their problems are more advanced than would be true for an insured population."

Furthermore, many of the patients suffer from chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, COPD, or some combination of the above.

As a result, ANHSI is responsible for educating its patients about medicine and the healthcare system. "In the hospital, they need an explanation, but they don't get it," said Tam, "so they call us and we will re-explain to them what they need."

"When they come here, they know that this is a medical home," Tam added, "we are going to work side-by-side with them."

EVEN THOUGH ANHSI offers a sliding cost fee for the uninsured, so that an a healthcare visit that on average costs between $160 and $170 cost as low as $15 for some patients, funding is always challenge. "I constantly have more patients to serve than the dollars needed to serve them," said Wooten.

Additionally, specialty care services can be difficult to access. They are oftentimes expensive, and are sometimes not covered by insurance programs. Further, the waiting time for specialty care can be discouraging to many patients.

Finally, space is always a concern. ANHSI serves a quickly growing demographic, and even though the organization has three independent clinics across Alexandria, the current spaces are crowded. This causes unneeded inefficiencies that ANHSI hopes to resolve in the near future.

About 67 percent of ANHSI's budget comes from local, state, and federal grants and private donors. The annual Monte Carlo casino night is its greatest fundraiser. Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation promises to match every dollar up to $35,000.

June 28 will also celebrate ANHSI's 15th anniversary of serving its community.

"We rely on this revenue year after year to help plug significant holes in our operating budget," said Wooten, "it's real important for the organization, and it has been well supported by the community historically. And we hope it will continue to be."