January 9, 2013
Marilyn Ringstaff, director of the Women of W.O.R.T.H. Inc. clinic in Rome, Ga., has noted a significant increase in clinic patients since October. She said that many of these new patients had gone to the Northwest Georgia (NWGA) Public Health Department for Pap smears, birth control prescriptions, or STD treatment, but were told that NWGA was not accepting new patients. She reported that the problem was the same in Polk, Chattooga, Bartow, and Floyd counties. NWGA was still seeing prior patients on a walk-in basis, but they had to be in line at the health department at 7:30 a.m., and only the first six to eight in line each day were seen.
NWGA Public Health's spokesperson Logan Boss confirmed that there was a temporary restriction on new patients in late October that has since been lifted; however, only women in certain categories can make appointments. He explained that 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. Belonging to one of these two groups gives patients priority consideration but does not guarantee program admission. Boss stated that the department was not accepting new patients in the fall because they had to reassess the financial and service requirements to determine if and how the department could continue to administer the federally funded program in a sustainable manner. He noted that the key problem for both private and public health care family providers is lack of funding.
Women of W.O.R.T.H. Inc. also has its financial problems. According to Ringstaff, the Georgia Baptist Health Care Foundation continues to withhold the remaining 10 percent of a clinic grant because of disapproval over the clinic offering the "morning after" pill. Ringstaff stated that this left the clinic with no remaining funds to help the uninsured who cannot access health department assistance and those who are affected by the governor's continued resistance of the Medicaid expansion and insurance exchange. Kristen Sheely, an employee of W.O.R.T.H. Inc., concluded that, "As the bank account nears $0, I just don't know where these women will go."