Drs. Wael Dabaja, Madison Pham volunteer at the Wyandotte Clinic. Photo courtesy the Wyandotte Clinic for the Working Uninsured.
Drs. Wael Dabaja, Madison Pham volunteer at the Wyandotte Clinic. Photo courtesy the Wyandotte Clinic for the Working Uninsured.

The Wyandotte Clinic for the Working Uninsured has a very full calendar, but an uncertain financial future.

WYANDOTTE, MI  — A clinic in downriver Metro Detroit is helping treat uninsured Michiganders during a pandemic that has cost millions of people their employer-provided health insurance.

“Many of the doctors were seeing a lot of patients in the ER for chronic disease management,” explained Nancy Zack, administrator of the Wyandotte Clinic for the Working Uninsured. “They had been not visiting their doctor because they lost their insurance or their employers had dropped their insurance. A lot of patients were getting their full-time jobs cut to part-time jobs and benefits were being lost. A lot of people were using the ER when it got too late to get their medical care.”

Zack said this prompted local doctors in Wyandotte to open their clinic in 2005. Specifically catering to those who work but lack insurance — a group underserved by other kinds of clinics — the Wyandotte Clinic placed a small story in a local paper when it opened and has been packed with patients ever since.

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“We’re one of Michigan’s, or at least downriver’s, best kept secrets,” Zack said. “Even though we have over 2,500 active patients, there’s always people who say ‘Oh, my gosh, I never knew this existed.’”

And recent events have made their mission all the more important, said Zack.

A Free Clinic in a Pandemic

The Wyandotte Clinic for the Working Uninsured is typically lightly staffed. Zack said she and two others make up the bulk of the staffing for the clinic’s administrative team. Right now, the lean clinic is doing financially alright, but as the pandemic drags on, that stability grows increasingly uncertain. 

“The price of PPE [personal protective equipment] has gone up so much that that is going to take a big chunk of our budget. The use of telehealth as we expand our services is going to take up more of our budget,” she said. “I think right now we’re okay, but if this continues through the end of the year we may need to look for some alternate funding.”

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Those rising costs pair with rising demand, as the Wyandotte Clinic is booked solid for the immediate future. From their gynecology night to family medicine nights, the clinic is booked out several weeks in advance. They’re bringing on another doctor soon, raising their number of physicians to five, but that still isn’t enough to ease the demand for services. 

“And now, as you know, it’s getting worse as people are getting laid off again or picking up little part time jobs to help supplement their income,” Zack told The ’Gander. “I really think we’re headed back to some dire times again with people needing medical care. It’s not looking good right now for a lot of our patients.”

What Could Make the Wyandotte Clinic Stronger?

As a 30-year veteran of the healthcare system, Zack’s view of insurance is that it’s a basic human right. She’s optimistic that the cultural change to see healthcare as a right is underway, especially in light of the coronavirus. 

“I see some of the minds that used to be against that turning a little bit, especially now during this pandemic,” she told The ’Gander. “Just like car insurance, you gotta have that basic thing, but if you want to change your coverages, get more, get less, you can do that, but everyone should have something.”

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But there are also cultural changes in the medical community that could help the Wyandotte Clinic out. 

“We have a lot of doctors who refer their patients to us, a lot of private physician practices who, if they get a patient without insurance, say, ‘Well, go see them and have them send the test results to us.’ Well, it would be real helpful if doctors that do that would volunteer once in a while to help us out,” Zack said. “That’s a small thing, and that’s a local thing.”

For now, the Wyandotte Clinic has been getting grants where possible, but Zack encouraged businesses and communities to donate to the clinic’s fund. As the word spreads about their services, the clinic’s patient load increases, but their financial support and volunteer base haven’t grown. 

Those wishing to donate support for the clinic or needing non-emergency medical care can visit the clinic’s website for more information.