Marilyn Ringstaff, director of the Women of W.O.R.T.H. Inc. clinic located at 1513 Dean St., said that since October, scores of women have been flocking to her clinic that could not be seen at the Northwest Georgia Public Health Department.
In late October through December, Ringstaff said many of her patients first sought to be seen for pap smears, birth control prescriptions, or STD treatments, but NWGA Public Health wasn’t accepting new patients at that time.
This was the case for Polk, Chattooga, Bartow and Floyd counties, and prior patients were only being seen on a walk-in basis, she said.
Based on what her patients were telling her, as well as what she witnessed herself, prior patients who needed to be seen were required to be in line at the heath department at 7:30 a.m., but the health department was only taking the first six to eight in line a day, Ringstaff said.
“I’ve seen many patients who have gotten in line several different days and can’t get seen,” Ringstaff said. “So our working moms have to take a day off work to chance maybe getting their birth control refilled, and those with kids in school have to drop them off around that time so they have no chance to get in line.”
Logan Boss, spokesman for Northwest Georgia Public Health, said there was a temporary curtailment of new patients in late October, but that has been lifted and women can now be seen. However, only women who fall within certain criteria can make appointments.
“Because of extremely limited resources, the Floyd County Health Department has placed a priority for Title X federally funded women’s health services on women with incomes of 150 percent of poverty level or less and teens,” Boss said. “Individuals in these two groups receive priority consideration; however, being in one of these two groups alone does not guarantee admission to the program.”
Boss said the department wasn’t accepting new patients in the fall because they had to reassess the financial and service requirements in order to determine if and how the department could continue to administer the federally funded program in a sustainable manner.
“New admissions were quickly reinstated and the Floyd County Heath Department is currently accepting new admissions into that program,” he said.
Women of W.O.R.T.H. Inc. has been facing financial issue as well. Ringstaff said a clinic benefactor, the Georgia Baptist Health Care Foundation, refused to release the remaining 10 percent of the funds from a grant they attempted to take back from the clinic earlier in the year. The religious organization was upset after learning that the clinic offers the “morning after” pill.
Ringstaff expressed her immense concerns for the staggering number of women in the community who can’t afford preventative health care.
“Bottom line is we have no remaining funding to help the uninsured, and they can’t get into a health department, and our governor is resisting the Medicaid expansion and insurance exchange,” she said. “But we now have nine funded clinical research trials in Georgia to research treating cervical cancer — but zero for prevention.”
The key problem really plaguing both private health care providers and public health care family providers is lack of funding, said Boss.
“Our 10-county Northwest Public Health District received $271,000 a year in Title X federal funding,” he said. “That’s enough for four and a half staff positions to cover 10 counties.”
W.O.R.T.H. employee Kristen Sheeley emphasized that something must be done in order for these women to be treated.
“We know that our increase in patient volume is directly related to a decrease in public health services,” Sheeley said. “As the bank account nears $0, I just don’t know where these women will go.”