Doctor treats laid-off patients for free
Truck driver Lanny Peacock lost his health insurance when he was laid off in December, but thanks to a longtime physician in this Greene County community, he didn’t lose access to health care.
Dr. Gary Turpin, 71, who has practiced in Greenfield for more than 40 years, treated Peacock for free Monday after Turpin took out an advertisement March 16 in the Greene County Shopper and made an unusual announcement.
Turpin, a general practitioner, said in the ad that he would treat his regular patients without charge, through the end of the year, if they lost their jobs or health insurance “due to the current recession.”
Turpin said he made the decision with his wife, Amy, a Murrayville second-grade teacher, after watching one of President Barack Obama’s speeches on television.
Obama had said “people should chip and do everything they can,” Turpin said. “My wife and I, after that speech, got to talking and thought, ‘That would be a nice thing to do.’”
Greenfield, about 45 miles southwest of Springfield, is home to only 1,100 people, but Turpin, the town’s only full-time doctor, is a busy man. He works four days a week, and each day, he sees 30 to 60 patients, some of whom travel from as far as Springfield and Quincy.
His office consists of him, a nurse and three secretaries. One of the secretaries estimated that Turpin has 2,500 to 3,000 regular patients.
Only two patients have taken him up on the offer of free care so far — Peacock, who lives in Greenfield, and a woman from Jacksonville who had lost her job.
Peacock, 58, a Teamsters driver for Edwardsville-based Cassens Transport Co., used to haul big loads of new cars across the country. He said his layoff was directly related to the downturn in the auto industry.
When Peacock had health insurance, an office visit cost him a $20 co-payment. He saw Turpin on Monday for a sore throat, coughing and congestion and said he probably would have delayed getting care if he would have had to pay Turpin’s full $45 office charge.
Turpin wrote Peacock a prescription for antibiotics that cost $8.50.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Peacock said. “I really think it’s great. He’s trying to give back to the community.”
Turpin said: “I’m happy to be doing it. I didn’t realize at the time that the thing was going to balloon the way it has.”
News of Turpin’s goodwill has been carried on St. Louis television stations and The Associated Press. He has received requests for interviews from NBC Nightly News and Reader’s Digest.
He said he doesn’t know how many of his patients will ask for free care. About 45 percent of his patients are insured through Medicare, about 45 percent have private insurance and about 10 percent are uninsured.
After almost 45 years in practice, he said, he’s not worried about losing money.
He added that he didn’t consider providing free care to people other than his existing patients.
“I wouldn’t be able to handle that,” he said.
Turpin’s patients like him so much that some of them bring him freshly laid eggs, homemade pies and “stuff out of their garden,” said Toni Lansaw, one of his secretaries. She said Turpin has been known to give price breaks to families and individuals in need.
“He’s not out to get rich,” she said. “He cares about the people.”
The American Medical Association doesn’t know whether more doctors are providing free “charity care” during the recession, but there have been anecdotal reports of offers similar to Turpin’s across the country.
Turpin wonders why more doctors aren’t providing free care, especially in a recession.
“That’s an embarrassment to me for the medical profession,” he said. “I would like for some of them to follow my example. I’m sure other people must be doing it, but they probably haven’t had the publicity maybe that I’ve had.”
Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543 email@example.com.