Nov 21, 2023 - News

How an Austin pediatric clinic cares for uninsured kids

Claire Hebner and Monica Simmons of Lirios Pediatrics. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

The nonprofit Lirios Pediatrics is closing in on a year of operations.

  • We met up with executive director Monica Simmons, and staff pediatrician and board president Claire Hebner to discuss the clinic.

Driving the news: Lirios, which offers free care to uninsured kids, has booked more than 1,400 visits and administered more than 2,500 vaccine shots.

  • The clinic, located by South Congress and Ben White Boulevard, is supported by cash and in-kind donations and estimates that there are more than 22,000 uninsured kids in Travis County.

Of note: Lirios, Spanish for lilies, is named for the late Lily Sood, an Austin pediatrician who was a mentor of Hebner's.

Tell me about the patients and their families.

MS: "We have families that are newly immigrated that may or may not be working and are waiting on paperwork. Or they might be from working families — restaurant workers, hotel workers, truck drivers."

In what ways is this an Austin problem?

MS: "There are kids in our families with two working parents who can't afford the insurance to put kids on their policy. The cost of living here is very high. It's hard to pay rent and food and the premium for your kid."

Aren't there other ways for kids to get medical care?

MS: "We have systems in place that could be doing that and should be doing that, but they're overcapacity. We're filling a gap."

What challenges do the kids face?

MS: "We have 14-year-old boys wearing girls' underwear and a girl's T-shirt because that's all they have. We know school is not always the easiest environment to integrate into, so we started carrying some clothes in sizing the kids would need. Families are incredibly grateful."

"We ask them if they need food, transportation, housing, language classes, or anything else. If you tell me you have no food in your house, you're going to leave here with something in your hands to keep your family safe and healthy till you can connect with resources."

Is a medical exam at Lirios at all unusual?

CH: "We ask what life was like in the country from which you came and what the trip was like. It helps inform the care if they just got here if I know they have no resources at all or what vaccines they may have gotten.

"And if there are dangerous places they're coming from, they might say, 'I'm super happy,' but in reality, they've experienced trauma or the mom starts to cry and says, 'We're having a really hard time.' For them, it's valuable knowing someone here, in this big world they're in, in which they don't have any resources, cares about their story and is offering to listen."

What sort of help do you need?

MS: "It's hard to find general operating dollars for medicine. If I don't pay my rent and don't pay my utility bill, it doesn't matter if I have a physician, if I don't have a place to see your child I'm not going to have my doors open."

How is the life of a pediatrician different at Lirios?

CH: "I'm paid much, much less. But I have control to give the medicine I want to give, to take care of kids that in 15-minute appointments I was not able to do. I used to see 32 kids in a day, now I see 11. And I don't have to bill. It's much more fulfilling, and I'm able to do really good medicine."


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