Doctor Promise Ojukwu came to southern Illinois from Detroit, Michigan. The OB/GYN says serving the community is a big part of what drew him to Shawnee Women's Health.
"I've always worked as a part of a community, I've always been dedicated to my community, and I think that there are some doctors who want to go into private practice – but for some, there are always going to be need for people who are going to be dedicated to the people in their community and to help out."
This week is National Health Center Week, and systems like Shawnee Health Service want people to know that despite news of budget cuts and changes to healthcare, there are providers who will see patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Dr. Ojukwu says Federally Qualified Health Centers are critical to communities – regardless of their size.
"It provides a very needed service in the community, especially when it comes to the news that there's always a lot of commotion – a lot of talk – about expenses to the community as a whole and how much money we spend on healthcare in America. FQHC's are so very important in providing a lot of women with services and easy access to healthcare. It takes a lot of burden off the emergency rooms, off of hospitals, and off of healthcare costs as a whole. We can take care of women from all kinds of backgrounds and different incomes who can come in, have a nice relationship with a doctor, and find that most of their care – most of their issues are taken care of, rather than leaving things until they're too late and having to turn up to the ER, and then costing more money in the long run."
Finding a specialist can sometimes be hard for patients on Medicaid, or those who lack health insurance. And while the federal Affordable Care Act has dramatically increased the number of people covered, Dr. Ojukwu says there are still a good number who need access to care.
"OB/GYN was originally a surgical specialization, but we find ourselves being primary care physicians. A lot of women come to us, rather than going to regular doctors, so we see a lot of high blood pressure, diabetes, and we're often the first step – the first port of call – for these women, that for whatever reasons, do not go to regular doctors. They always come to us."
And he says the ACA is making a difference for his patients – even if it is sometimes slow progress.
"The greatest success of the Affordable Care Act is that now, women have to have access to healthcare. I've had personal examples of women who've come in that had issues for many years that could have been treated a long time ago if they'd have access to insurance or to medical care. But with the Affordable Healthcare Act, I'm seeing more women coming in. Sometimes it can be kind of overwhelming because women come to us with a whole list of problems that they want us to handle in one visit, but it's still better than nothing. We can still help them, and it's better than a woman moving around, walking around, with no access to health."
Still, Dr. Ojukwu says there are many women who avoid seeing a doctor – for a variety of reasons – who need help. He hopes patients won't be afraid to be seen, so that their problems can be managed before they get out of control.
"It's always better to get help sooner rather than later. I would say that, especially with Shawnee (Health Service), we do have a lot of specialists and specialties, which can help with different issues and different problems. We have a lot of primary care physicians – family practice – and especially down in southern Illinois, we have mental health specialists. So it doesn't matter what your issues are, it's always better to be seen sooner rather than later, before things get worse. I would say just come in, and we can help you."
And Dr. Ojukwu says seeing just one physician can lead to some of those other specialists – he says taking the first step is many times the most important part of seeking care. And for the patients who fear they'll be turned away because they are covered by Medicaid or cannot pay, Dr. Ojukwu offers this:
"As a physician, I don't care about that. I will treat you, regardless. It doesn't matter to me."