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Donation shortfall may close Community Free Clinic

May 22, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Comm. Free Clinic

The Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown, which depends totally on donations, faces a financial crisis and could close as early as July if more money doesn't come in, clinic officials said.

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The nonprofit clinic at 18 W. Franklin St. gives free medical care and medicine to Washington County residents who have no health insurance.

Without help the clinic may not make payroll in July, and if that happens the clinic will close, said Executive Director Shelby Higgins.

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Members of the clinic's board of directors, including founder Dr. Martin Gallagher, will ask the City Council and the Washington County Commissioners for emergency funding, Higgins said.

The clinic staff is busy preparing grants applications, and board members are being asked to solicit money from the community, Higgins said.

Donations are less than expected and there has been a dramatic rise in the number of patients coming to the clinic, Higgins said.

In 1996, the clinic treated 4,578 patients. In 1997, that figure jumped by 64 percent to 7,527 patients, Higgins said. More than 8,000 patients are expected this year, she said.

Those served by the clinic include the homeless and poor, minimum-wage workers not covered by employer insurance, single parents, and college students.

Volunteers at the clinic include 147 area physicians and other medical providers, 40 nurses and 150 lay people, Higgins said.

Clinic officials expected to get $45,000 in contributions from individuals this fiscal year, but have only received $14,500 so far. The $28,000 the clinic got from the United Way for the medication voucher program this year fell far short of the $42,000 cost of the program, she said.

Even with money expected in August from the Washington County Gaming Commission, the funding shortfalls and higher patient costs mean the clinic will end the year with a $50,000 deficit, she said.

Operating costs at the clinic are about $20,000 a month, Higgins said.

The clinic can mean the difference between life and death, patients said.

Rose Rickard, 48, of Hagerstown, said she came to the clinic over a year ago at the urging of her sister. She was sick, and so weak she could barely open a refrigerator door.

"I can't afford to go to a doctor," she said. "If it wasn't for this place I wouldn't be here. I was going into congestive heart failure. I had to have my kidney removed. They told me if I hadn't come here I would have been dead in five days."

Rickard quit her job at a fast-food restaurant three years ago to baby-sit for her daughter in exchange for room and board.

"When I come down here now I bring $5 or $10 and put in in the donation jar. That's all I can afford," she said. "I love them here. I would stand on my head for these people. They help people who don't have anything."

Peggy Baker, 46, of Hagerstown, came to the clinic a year ago. "I was feeling bad around my heart. I found out no blood was going to my heart. I'm on medicine now. I came here because my friends told me they treat you like their own here," she said.

James "Jim" Turner works at the Union Rescue Mission in Hagerstown. He was staying there four or five years ago when he started coming to the clinic. He said doctors there diagnosed him with heart trouble.

"I had a five-way bypass," he said. "At the hospital they told me I would have had no more than a month to live ... the people here treat you beautiful. I can't say enough for them. They go out of their way for you."

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