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Community clinic marks first decade

February 13, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

When the Community Free Clinic opened in 1990, it was a limited operation offering services one day a week and working out of storage rooms donated by the Union Rescue Mission in Hagerstown.

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That first year, 440 patients were treated. Now, 10 years later, the clinic offers a wide range of services five days a week and treated 8,300 patients in 1999, according to Lori Rice, director of clinical services.

On Sunday, 300 volunteers, contributors and staff members gathered at the Ramada Inn Convention Center in Hagerstown to celebrate the clinic's 10th anniversary and recognize those who played key roles in its development.

"This county has been very supportive and their efforts have helped make the clinic a reality," said Rice.

Since its inception, the clinic at 18 W. Franklin St. has expanded its services. Jeff Downin was hired in February as business and marketing director.

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It serves about 15,000 uninsured people in Washington County and is also a resource for the working poor who are underinsured, Rice said.

Reaching such a milestone demonstrates that the people of Washington County are caring and generous, said Dr. Wayne C. Spiggle, president of the Maryland State Medical Society, who was guest speaker at the anniversary dinner.

He estimated that about 21,000 people, or 17 percent of the population of Washington County, are without insurance. And for those people, getting sick can devastate them physically and financially.

"Having 17 percent of the population uninsured is horrific enough, but just as many people are underinsured and can't afford (their insurance carrier's) co-pay or deductible," he said.

Clinic founder and President Dr. Marty Gallagher was among those honored Sunday for their efforts.

The past 10 years haven't been easy, said Gallagher.

Just a year ago, it was thought that the clinic might have to close its doors because of a serious shortage of funds, he said.

"It's been an interesting journey. Every road has some bumps, but we put out an appeal and the public responded," Gallagher said.

The clinic's annual budget of $250,000 includes about $38,000 from the United Way and $60,000 in Maryland State gaming funds.

"It amazes me the way the community has plugged into it," Gallagher said. "One person hasn't made it happen. It was a collaborative effort with a lot of cooperation and goodwill."

Helen Hodges of Hagerstown was one of many who came through with a donation when the clinic was in financial straits.

She said she was impressed when she toured the facility as a member of the Beaver Creek Lions Club and wanted to reach out.

"I'm fortunate to be able to give it," she said.

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