SUNBURY — Dr. John Pagana has seen plenty of heartbreaking situations during his four-decade medical career but hearing from patients who put off getting care or avoid taking prescriptions because of the cost is among the most disturbing.

"At least once a week diabetic patients say they've stopped taking insulin because it's too expensive," said Pagana, who serves as volunteer medical director at A Community Clinic, 344 Market St., Sunbury, which offers free medications and lab services to uninsured, income-eligible residents in Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Montour counties.

The medical needs in the Valley vary, but Pagana and other health and human service workers agree the demand for substance abuse and psychological services are growing, access to care is limited and many people lack health insurance.

A Community Health Needs Assessment of 19 Pennsylvania counties, including Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Montour, conducted by Geisinger, Allied Services Integrated Health System and Evangelical Community Hospital, addresses the issues.

Former Wood-Mode employee Tammy Heeter said she's among the many patients who are opting not to take prescription medication because of the cost.

The Beavertown resident underwent back surgery in March, two months before she lost her job of 20 years when the Kreamer plant closed suddenly and the owners canceled medical benefits for the 983 former employees.

"The medication is fairly expensive," said Heeter, who is also declining to undergo another back surgery because of the cost. "I always thought of myself as confident and capable. I never thought I would be in this situation."

Pagana said the needs of the under- and uninsured are "tremendous. They are afraid to see a specialist or go to the ER." 

Susquehanna River Valley Dental Health Clinic has been providing low-cost oral care to Medicaid and low-income residents in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties for 10 years at its Sunbury office.

The clinic is adding an entire floor dedicated to pediatric dentistry in an effort to provide care to more than the 6,000 children it serves annually, said office manager Sue White.

"We know that the lack of dental care leads to other medical issues," said assistant office manager Catalina Payson.

For Nicole Hafer of Sunbury, the close proximity of the 335 Market St. clinic makes it possible for her to bring her four older children in for regular check-ups. 

"It's easy to get here," she said, referring to the lack of public transportation in the Valley which was also cited in the report as a barrier for some receiving medical attention.

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