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a healthy concern

Kentucky's families are getting poorer and fewer of them have health insurance, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That is not news to the Rev. Patsey Jacobs, director of Mission Lexington, Inc., an ecumenical non-profit organization that is an outreach ministry of four local churches.

The mission has been operating a free dental clinic on South Limestone for uninsured working adults in Lexington since 2006. They plan to expand and open a free medical clinic on Trent Boulevard by late September.

And, because there's a one-year waiting list for dental services now, they expect the medical clinic to be at full capacity in very short order. Census numbers show the poverty rate increased just under 1 percent nationally between 2001 and 2007. In Kentucky during that same time, the poverty rate rose nearly 2 percent.

The median income for working-age households increased nationally by nearly $2,000 between 2001 and 2007. In Kentucky, the median income dropped nearly $200, and remained well below the national average.

The percentage of Kentuckians without health insurance increased over the six-year period by 2.4 percent to 14.6 percent. That represents a lot of people who are bypassing primary medical and dental care because they don't have the means to pay for it.

Jacobs, a lawyer for 18 years who followed her calling into the ministry, said the dental clinic came about after she and other members of Calvary Baptist Church took a mission trip to Arlington, Texas, in 2004.

There they saw the many aspects of life served by Mission Arlington, including dental and health care.

"When we came back, we said, 'We can do that, and need to do that,'" Jacobs said.

Members began exploring the needs of Lexington, and over and over again one answer came up: adult dental care.

Faith Lutheran Church members had come to the same conclusion, so the two churches began working together. Maxwell Street Presbyterian and Good Shepherd Episcopal churches soon joined.

Calvary owned property at 216 South Limestone, so that space became the dental clinic in 2006, operating with dentists who volunteer at least three hours a month.

"We have about 30 dentists who regularly rotate through, but we could use hundreds and hundreds more," Jacobs said. "We've got everything we need to see patients except dentists."

With more dentists, more patients could be served and the clinic could be open longer.

"Usually, by the time they come to us, they are in bad shape," Jacobs said. "Some have never been to a dentist before."

Although visits are by appointment only, "We try to work them in. We triage for pain," she said.

The medical clinic will operate on a similar shoestring budget and with volunteer medical personnel when it opens, Jacobs said. Located at 1363 Trent Boulevard, the clinic will be in one of the eight buildings that once housed Excepticon, a residential facility for the mentally retarded that closed in 1999. The renovated facility includes three exam rooms, a lab, space for educational and nutritional consultations and room for a pharmacy. The land and buildings are owned by the Episcopal dioceses.

It will be the only free clinic on the south side of town. The Nathaniel Mission operates a free clinic for downtown residents, Jacobs said.

The Mission Lexington clinic will serve working adults without insurance and will be open at the availability of physician volunteers. The focus will be on health maintenance that would prevent diseases such as diabetes and hypertension from advancing to the point the patient requires emergency services, Jacobs said. If the working poor get to that stage, missing work and losing needed money can result.

Although the need is great, undertaking the responsibility of health care is no easy or inexpensive task.

"It is hard, and requires a big commitment of resources and people," Jacobs said. "It is dreaming the impossible dream, which I felt a lot over the last few years.

"But if we can be a catalyst to get more people on board, then we are willing to be that," she said.

For more information about either clinic, to volunteer, or to make a donation, call (859) 254-3491, Ext 242.