October 6, 2010; Source: Dallas Morning News | The public often views the poor as ghettoized, but in reality poor families can often be found living, sometimes almost invisibly, in wealthy neighborhoods and suburbs, but ironically because of their affluent locations, they don’t have access to the help they need.

But the suburbanization of poverty, particularly in inner ring suburbs, doesn’t mean that the poor don’t need help. In ostensibly (and sometimes ostentatiously) affluent West Plano, Texas outside of Dallas, a hospital, a church, and an existing health clinic in a neighboring community have joined to create a nonprofit clinic for the poor. The East Plano clinic had seen a surge of demand from poor people living in the western part of the county, people without health insurance, often having to make choices between paying medical bills and paying their mortgages.

Open two days a week and staffed by volunteers, the new West Plano clinic will serve people without health insurance with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level and charge them $20 for an initial visit and $15 for follow-ups. Of the three partners in this health joint venture, Presbyterian Hospital has committed $40,000 to the clinic and St. Andrew Methodist Church is trying to raise another $40,000.

Interestingly, Collins County officials lauded the creation of the new clinic as an alternative to “some big government approach,” in the words of Commissioner Matt Shaheen. The commissioners had been criticized for being particularly stingy with public funds to help the indigent. The commissioners might be reminded that the poor people living in affluent suburbs cheek to jowl with wealthy families are the county’s constituents and merit the help that a government agency can provide.

The charity-funded West Plano health clinic should be a supplement to, not a substitute for vital government assistance and shouldn’t be used as an excuse by the commissioners to get off the hook.—Rick Cohen