Joanne-Smith-photoImagine losing your job and your health insurance company coming and taking away your oxygen concentrator when your oxygen to the brain drops below 70 percent and your sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing at least 10 times a night. That’s the situation Smith found herself in.

The 55-year-old Burlington resident had worked for a local company in Burlington for over 15 years as an accounts receivable specialist, handling billing for the medical company. But Smith’s lack of oxygen to the brain because of COPD and five heart blockages caused short-term memory loss, leaving her unable to do her job.

“I freaked out,” she said. “I didn’t know really what to do. A friend had told me about a health center because I was on a lot of medication.”

She called the Scott Community Heath Center in Burlington, and providers at the facility began immediately helping Smith. They found her a company in High Point that donated an oxygen concentrator, the machine that helps her breathe.

Smith had no income at the time but only had to show her I.D. and a utility bill as components of the sliding fee scale determination.  She applied for long-term disability and Medicaid, but didn’t get an income for eight months and it was two years before she received Medicaid benefits.

In the meantime, Scott staff helped her with a variety of needs, including finding a company that would donate Smith’s medication – which cost $2,500 a month – for free.

“It’s a blessing,” said Smith. “If it hadn’t been for the health center, I wouldn’t have gotten my medicine. When you lose your insurance, and medicine, it makes you feel like a bum. But they don’t make you feel like it’s an imposition.

“I worked all my life until I got sick and my husband died before me so it was just me,” Smith continued. “They are a very important part of our community and we need them. They sent me to a heart doctor and a pulmonary doctor. I had three teeth that abscessed at one time, and they sent me to their health center in Carrboro. They really help people get what they need as far as dental care and medical care.”

Since her initial contact with Piedmont Health, Scott has switched service to the Burlington Community Health Center, another Piedmont facility. She said Christen Franks is especially helpful in filling out paperwork and assisting in her medical care. She said she’ll continue getting health care services through Piedmont, even though she now has Medicare and could go elsewhere; it’s home.

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