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To Budget for a Heartbeat: A Nurse Practioner's Clinic Offers Hope and Care for the Uninsured

Updated on April 10, 2012

We’ve always been cautioned about the need to take care of our bodies in any situation. We see advertisements all the time about health insurance and having it help us to defray the upfront costs of medical expenses. However, how long will it be for some of us before we see the real benefits? How many premiums do we need to pay before the cost of a doctor’s shot comes down to nothing? Worst of all, wouldn’t the mental stress of affording the insurance cause us more problems for our health?

Melissa Herpel, a nurse practitioner based in Houston, had understood these issues all too well, being unable to afford health insurance of her own. Today, she provides a place for people to come and get the care they a price they can actually afford.

On March 28, 2012, CBS news interviewed Nurse Herpel about a Health Clinic she started in the Houston area. She established a clinic specifically for patients who are currently without health insurance coverage.

The high rate of uninsured patients is, sadly, not unheard of in Texas. According to the report, nearly a quarter of the residents of Texas are without health coverage. One of Nurse Herpels' patients, nine-year old Georgia Shivers, had been treated by Herpel to remove a large splinter in her foot. Her mother, Katy, could not afford the $400 monthly premium towards health coverage. Her only option would have been visiting the Emergency Room, which according to the Texas Academy of Family Physicians would have cost her $900.

Herpel’s clinic, known as Express Family Clinic, provides a major relief to these costs. According to the clinic’s site, the cost for a visit starts at only $50. In addition, the clinic has no dealings with the insurance companies, making it easier for Herpel to control the prices of her drugs and treatments. For example, an injection of antibiotics at Herpel’s clinic would run at $15 whereas a doctor’s office that normally files their claims with insurance companies could charge between $95 to $105.

Express Family Clinic

With the exception of delivering babies, Nurse Herpel’s clinic is able to perform just about any medical service that a general practitioner can do. The clinic’s website lists a variety of treatments for anything related to cardiovascular conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, and neurological disorders. Furthermore, the clinic is able to provide a variety of medicines for something as simple as seasonal allergies to more complex conditions that require vaccinations such as meningitis and hepatitis A and B.

Nurse Herpel’s clinic may sound like a revolutionary idea that’s just now getting attention. However, in reality her clinic has been in business since June 2011 and has been growing since that time. Herpel’s clinic first got press attention through a report posted by The Spring Observer, a local news service in Houston, on June 21, 2011. According to the report, Herpel had worked as a nurse practitioner for five years before opening her clinic. It holds four exam rooms, a lab room, and several pieces of medical equipment.

Although Herpel works with a small staff, she is able to keep the overhead costs of her facility relatively low. In addition, the financing of the clinic has been largely supported by her as well as close friends and family relatives. While Herpel has been satisfied with the successful results of her practice, her main gratification is the ability to provide a service that would normally be out of reach for her patients. As she told the Observer, she didn’t like the idea of a patient having to put off getting proper treatment that would potentially cause: “...a problem that becomes huge and they end up in the hospital.”

"When you think of uninsured nowadays, you think of poor, you think of low income, you think of a tiny shack house with someone who has no amenities," said Herpel in the CBS news interview. "That's not the case anymore."

CBS News Video Link

Several years ago, I once worked for a business where all I was able to get was a paycheck. It wasn’t until close to the time I left for another job that this business started to offer basic health coverage. Before that, I was paying for health insurance on my own. Even with my good health history, it was indescribably difficult to find something that was affordable.

When you don’t have the backing of a company to help you foot the bill, you really find yourself painted into a corner with no way out. You end up losing sleep trying to decide where your next paycheck goes: will it be medicine, gas, or food? If I stressed out over these questions when it came to caring for myself, I don’t even want to imagine the stress level people have to face when they have an entire family to support!

However, there is something much deeper and more troublesome when it comes to not having insurance: the stigma associated with it. Nurse Herpel made a very strong point when she explained that not having health care coverage is not just something that affects a person living in a roach infested-motel room. When you get sick, it gets expensive and things that get expensive are hard to manage. Still, it’s not something you want to admit to everyone that knows you. True, the news today shows there are millions of Americans that don’t have insurance coverage, and yes the debate is even hotter now that the new Health Care law is being debated in US Supreme Court. However, how many people do we know personally that don’t have that coverage? Probably not that many and to a large degree it’s probably rather embarrassing for them. No one likes the idea of having to admit they need help when it comes to finances. It really hurts your self-esteem. It makes you feel as if you are not capable of taking care of yourself or that you are being irresponsible with covering your basic necessities. After all, when we grow up, we should be able to handle things on our own, right? We shouldn’t have to feel the humiliation of begging for help.

Nurse Herpel has worked in a business where she has seen the damage done to people who don’t have the means to take care of their bodies. In fact, she admits in her interviews that she herself doesn’t have coverage because she can’t afford it, so why shun and put down those who are in the same boat? If anything, she has instilled courage and hope for her patients. She has shown us that there is never a need to be afraid to ask for help when the need arises. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on medical costs nor would I say one way or another whether the insurance companies or the hospitals are at fault for keeping the costs of medical care so high. However, the fact is Herpel’s success has given us a real solution to a real problem...or at the very least it’s a step in the right direction. Even if Herpel’s practice is not adopted across the country, it’s a real comfort to know that someone like Herpel understands the system enough to know how it can be used to give the kind of care that people need.

The fact is that no matter how old you get, you are always, and I mean ALWAYS, going to need some kind of help. Life gets complicated and twisted. Unexpected emergencies come up all the time. Budgets, in a perfect world, can prepare us for things like our monthly mortgages, our gas, our food, our gym memberships. These are things that come up regularly...but we have more than just regular responsibilities. Life hands out so many unpredictable situations that even the best planned budget cannot account for them all. You can’t really determine when it’s going to be the next time you get a cold or a fever. Honestly, you can’t even plan on when the next time you’ll break a bone in your body...if you could than accidents would not even exist in this world.

Perhaps my thoughts are a little naïve, but wouldn’t it be something to say we can actually help others without having the high costs attached to it? No one should ever have to be put in a spot where they have to choose between getting a shot for their blood pressure or buying enough groceries to last them until their next paycheck. Perhaps one day, if more doctors can follow Herpel’s example, fewer patients will have to make that kind of choice.


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    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      Write on!

    • gmaoli profile image

      Gianandrea Maoli 5 years ago from South Carolina

      ImKarn, I really appreciate this! Nurse Herpel really deserves are thanks and gratitude for doing this work and I hope this story gets more recognition. I listen to news pretty regularly and this isn't the kind of story that, sadly, makes major headlines, especially up against other things that are being sensationalized like the election. Still, I'm willing to keep looking for stories that drive hope through the good and heart driven works of people like Nurse Herpel...and keep writing about them so more people will know and offer their support to such causes.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      I LOVE THIS POST! Am tweeting, twitting, twatting..whatever..This woman is an angel, and she should be able to get private support for her endeavor. Posts like yours will help, as i, for one have never heard of her - or this - and i scour news stations all day long! I'm canadian, and i've lived in and gone to school in the US - and I gotta tell ya - the MENTAL wear and tear of not having health insurance - is enough to make ya sick! Beautiful gmaoli...

    • gmaoli profile image

      Gianandrea Maoli 5 years ago from South Carolina

      So do I, but maybe with enough attention to this story, they will be. Thank you for stopping by!

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Here here - I wish your comments and insights would be put into practice far and wide.