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December 20, 2014

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HEALTH CARE:

Health clinic plans meet prejudice

Proposal to use building in park unleashes hostile comments by neighbors

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Leila Navidi

Dr. Florence Jameson, right, founder of Volunteers in Medicine, which plans to open a clinic in a building in Paradise Park, argues with Brent Cooper who lives near the park, during an open house about the clinic Wednesday. “I was against the clinic before I got here,” said Cooper, who had changed his mind by the time he left the event.

Free medical clinic

Dr. Florence Jameson, right, founder of the Volunteers in Medicine free clinic that is proposed for the area around Paradise Park, debates with Brent Cooper, left, who lives near Paradise Park, during an open house about the clinic in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 13, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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Proposed clinic

The uninsured won’t find much love in the neighborhood around Tropicana and Eastern avenues.

That’s where Clark County officials may allow a free medical clinic to use an empty building at Paradise Park.

Neighbors want nothing of it.

The influx of people without insurance would lower property values and increase crime, they say. In fact, it would ruin their park. Theirs, as if it were a private park.

“The uninsured, in my mind, are a group of people that are less desirable,” one elderly neighbor told the Sun. “I don’t want them coming into my park.”

He said he knows of an apartment down the street from his home that is shared by several poor families and “you should see the filth.”

“These are the kind of people” the free clinic will care for, he said with disgust.

The nonprofit organization Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada wants to provide the clinic, and county commissioners are soliciting feedback from residents before they consider approving it.

The ensuing vitriol has exposed the prejudice of the haves against the have-nots.

One resident wrote in an e-mail to commission Chairman Rory Reid, who represents the district, that the clinic “is sure to alter the safety and enjoyment of the park. I do not want more ‘at risk’ people there, seeking free medical treatment.”

Reid says he is listening to the residents. If he waits much longer to put the project on the agenda it could be derailed. Clinic organizers said they must have their approval by June or they risk losing about $250,000 in state funding and grant money.

Dr. Florence Jameson, founder of the volunteer group — which includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists and attorneys — said there’s a desperate need for the clinic and that organizers will make every effort to maintain cleanliness and security in Paradise Park.

“While we remain sensitive to concerns raised by some nearby residents, there simply is no evidence to support claims that a family practice medical office serving the working uninsured will result in negative public safety impacts,” she said.

The neighbors remain cynical. They suggest Jameson’s aim is to profit or turn the site into a high volume clinic. At an April meeting to discuss the proposal, they interrupted her presentation with shouts, saying she would perform abortions at the clinic (not true) and said she wants the clinic in the park only because it’s near her medical office (also not true).

On Wednesday, the volunteers hosted an open house at a nearby church in an attempt to win over the critics and rally support. There was open hostility from some neighbors — including cursing at the volunteers and comments that hinted of racism.

Pharmacist Khanh Pham, one of the clinic volunteers, was in tears afterward. Recalling her own refugee status in the United States years earlier, without insurance, Pham said that when one of the residents told her that the “lowlifes” — the people without health insurance — would “trash their neighborhood,” she replied: “I am one of those lowlifes. I am that trash. Do I look like a person who will come and trash your neighborhood?”

Several neighbors, referring to her immigrant status, told Pham that she should “go back where she came from.”

Opponents of the free clinic offer a litany of reasons against it, but most are based on assumptions that poor people and those without insurance are detrimental.

Al Gundy, who said he uses the recreation center at the park five days a week, told the Sun he’s concerned the medical clinic will contribute to the depreciation of his home.

Peggy Bacon, president of a local homeowners association, wrote in an e-mail to Reid that the clinic, which is expected to treat about 50 patients a day by appointment, would “destroy our neighborhood.”

The uninsured are victims of harsh stereotyping.

The advocacy group Families USA estimates that a third of Nevadans younger than 65 went without health insurance for at least a month in 2008, and the number is rising as the jobless rate goes up. Uninsured patients tend to delay treatment, which can cause conditions to become more acute and more expensive to treat.

A low-income pediatric dental clinic is in a building at the park. When asked about its effect on the park environment, the critics said they have no complaints.

A few residents made less mean-spirited arguments against the proposed free clinic in Paradise Park. Lenny Talarico, who sits on a homeowners board, says a medical clinic is inappropriate at a recreational park. He said he met with Jameson and her husband to discuss helping them find a commercial site they could rent.

But such a site would cost $8,000 a month, Jameson estimated. The county would lease the park building to Volunteers in Medicine for $1 a year for at least five years.

Clinic volunteers say Clark County officials have led them to believe for years that Paradise Park would be a perfect site for their clinic. Dr. Raj Chanderraj said then-County Manager Thom Reilly suggested the site about five years ago. Reid has also supported the Paradise Park site for the medical facility, clinic officials said. On his county Web sites, Reid cites putting the dental clinic in Paradise Park as one of his accomplishments.

Volunteers in Medicine was the only bidder when the county solicited proposals to use the building. The group would need to invest about $420,000 to renovate the building, and budget $300,000 a year to operate it, Jameson said.

The group has about $170,000 in state allocated money to renovate the clinic — money that will be lost if the project isn’t approved by the end of June — plus an $80,000 grant that’s tied to the Paradise Park building because the foundation liked the low-rent option. Jameson said the group has enough cash on hand to operate the clinic for six months, plus $300,000 in pledges.

Whether the project moves forward hinges on Reid, who is giving credence to the neighbors’ complaints.

“The question isn’t whether it’s a great project, but whether it should be located in the park,” Reid said. “I think it’s fair to ask whether this will create traffic and other burdens.”

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