This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Emergency rooms were never meant to be the main place people go for health care.

But for uninsured adults who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, ER visits can seem like the only option.

About 22 percent of the adult population in Caldwell County is uninsured, compared to 15.7 percent of the population nationally. That means more than 11,000 Caldwell adults are uninsured.

“Those adults, unfortunately, often resort to the ER for their primary care,” said Lilly Skok Bunch, executive director of the Helping Hands Clinic. “They feel like they have no other option.”

Helping Hands steps in to fill the gap between Medicare and Medicaid — which have strict requirements for which many uninsured Americans don’t qualify — and medical coverage.

The clinic offers free medical care and free prescription medications, and its biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up.

The seventh annual Pot of Gold Celebration will be held March 22 at 6 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. The event typically brings around $60,000 into Helping Hands’ $550,000 operating budget.

Tickets for this year’s event, sponsored by McCreary Modern and Bernhardt Furniture, are $50. The highlight is a raffle with a $5,000 cash prize. The winner is gently encouraged to point that prize back as a donation to the clinic, but it’s not required.

The event will also feature dinner and a silent auction, and Lenoir-based bluegrass band Sweetbriar Jam will play live.

Organizers hope guests will come away from the event feeling like they know some of the people who depend on Helping Hands.

“We want to make sure that they’re invested, they understand,” assistant director Debra Philyaw said. “Because that reduces the cost of healthcare for the whole community.”

Some of those adults who depend on Helping Hands are unemployed. Others have never depended on any social services, but they couldn’t cope with the costs of expensive medication as they grew ill or older.

As preparation for the event reaches its close, volunteers have been purchasing raffle tickets to give to Helping Hands patient.

Everyone’s crossing their fingers a patient will take home the $5,000 this year, Philyaw said.