By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When Gov. Mary Fallin made the announcement in November that she was going to reject an Obama administration offer to finance much of the cost of expanding Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, Brian Karnes, CEO of Health For Friends in Norman was a bit shocked.
“I was more shocked with the Supreme Court’s announcement. I thought the Medicaid was a no brainer, so when they came back and said, no the states will have discretion rather they want to accept that or not, I was more shocked at that. As soon as I heard that, I kind of knew the writing on the wall. Still, I think I was a little bit shocked that is was turned down,” Karnes said. “I was disheartened, I guess. Just knowing all the good that it would do and the access that it could provide for all of those individuals that don’t have it (medical coverage) now.”
And those individuals Karnes knows all too well. As the CEO of a non-profit facility that has offered health care to the medically needy in Norman since 1985, Karnes is forced to see the impact Health for Friends has had on the community. Health for Friends is a comprehensive health care center with a medical clinic, dental clinic, prescription assistance and social work programs. A second clinic, the Health for Friends Women and Children’s Center, opened in November at 1124 N. Porter Ave.
“If she (Gov. Fallin) did accept the expansion, in January 2014, almost all of our patients would then have coverage. The vast majority of our folks that we currently see, that don’t have coverage, would then be covered by Medicaid. What that means for us, obviously, is another revenue stream. Us being a non-profit, we can take that additional revenue and put it back into services and either expand or do various things to help out our clients more,” Karnes said.
Serving the Norman, Noble, Blanchard, Purcell and South Moore areas, Karnes said that the facility has a misnomer of being a medical facility strictly for the homeless.
“The vast majority are individuals that are working. If you’ve eaten at any restaurant on this street, you’ve been served by one of our clients. And most of the grocery chains, too,” Karnes said.
Lisa Schmidt, fund development manager for Health For Friends, adds that most of the clients at Health for Friends are working more than one job.
“Most of them do have kids. They are people who have been coming for awhile,” Schmidt said. “There is research that shows that there is a large percentage of people on Medicaid that don’t seek medical care. They really don’t know what’s available. So we are really trying to make sure anyone who works with people that may be on Medicaid or SoonerCare know that we are providing care and taking patients. There are a lot of people who need help.”
Karnes and Schmidt know that Health for Friends is an asset to the community. They are also both holding out hope that Fallin will change her mind and decide to accept the Medicaid expansion package.
“There is a need for us now, and there will continue to be whether she accepts that expansion or not. As we do now, we would continue to rely heavily on grants, donations and the generosity of individuals in our community. One of the unfortunate aspects is a lot of the grants seemed to have shifted away from providing indigent care because the grantors feel for the most part that is taken care of now. So those are getting harder to find,” Karnes said.
Karnes adds that if he had additional revenue and expanding services, he would be able to offer more jobs that would impact the community economically.
“These are quality jobs we are going to be bringing in. It is not a telemarketing center, these are high paying jobs that come with benefits that will be in the Norman community.”
We would be bringing in additional physicians. We would be bringing in additional mid-level providers, dentists, nurses, staff,” Karnes said.
Also, if Fallin doesn’t accept the expansion, Health for Friends would be competing for physicians with other states that did accept the expansion, Karnes said. It would also make it more competitive for Health for Friends to receive grants.
“It’s painful. It was painful when she announced they were not going to take it.” Schmidt said.
“I really thought the economic development part would appeal to her (Fallin.) The quality of life in the state and the availability for the quality health care through the state being something that would attract high quality employers, that would be something she might hang her hat on. I had a lot of faith in that.”
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