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Donations bail out Community Free Clinic

June 17, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

The financially-strapped Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown will not have to close its doors in July, thanks to an outpouring of donations from the community in response to its plea for help.

Clinic officials said last month that they needed to raise $30,000 to cover operating costs until August, when the Washington County Gaming Commission is expected to come through with funds the clinic has requested from tip jar gambling proceeds.

"The response has been incredible," said clinic Executive Director Shelby Higgins. "So far we have received $22,800 from more than 100 donors, and it's not over yet. The community is responding - we are on the road to recovery."

Donations have come from local residents, members of the medical community, civic organizations and businesses, Higgins said.

Higgins said a local telemarketing firm is giving volunteers a bank of phones for two nights later this month, when the clinic will hold a telethon.

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State Sen. Don Munson, Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II are among those who have volunteered to staff the phones.

Higgins said a merchant is donating proceeds from her annual craft sale to the clinic, 12 restaurants have asked for donation jars, the Rotary Foundation called about grant monies, and service groups are making future commitments to help with funding.

"This is truly a miracle," she said.

For their part, clinic officials have gotten on the agenda at upcoming meetings of the Washington County Commissioners and Hagerstown City Council, where they will ask for additional funding.

Higgins continues to look for funding. This budget year, she managed to pull in about $115,000 in grant funds.

"I already have $300,000 in requests in the pipeline for next fiscal year," she said.

The local clinic is one of only about 200 in the country that provide free medical treatment and medicine for people who have no health insurance, Higgins said.

This is the first time the clinic has had to ask for help. "We've always managed to make it," she said.

But a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking treatment at the clinic has increased operating costs, she said.

This year more than 8,000 patients are expected, almost double the number that sought help at the clinic two years ago, Higgins said.

Costs for laboratory and diagnostic work, which is done in-house, also was higher than expected, Higgins said.

In addition to community contributions and grant money, this budget year the clinic also got $50,000 from the Washington County Hospital Association's health system, Higgins said.

"We keep uninsured patients out of the emergency room," she said.

The clinic has one fund-raiser a year, the Potter's Bowl. That benefit netted $5,000 for the current budget year, Higgins said.

Higgins has proposed a $330,000 budget for the budget year beginning July 1.

Higgins said the clinic provides primary and specialty care and all diagnostic lab tests to more than 700 people a month at a cost of about $20,000 a month.

"That means we're keeping the cost at under $30 per patient," she said. "That's not bad."

Hagerstown physician Dr. Martin Gallagher started the clinic, which is staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses. What began as a bare-bones operation in cramped quarters in the Union Rescue Mission building has turned into a modern operation in larger quarters at 18 W. Franklin Street.

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