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Walnut Street center dedicated

May 24, 2000|By JOSH POLTILOVE

A Hagerstown center designed to provide heath care to insured and uninsured patients regardless of their ability to pay was dedicated Wednesday evening.

The ceremony for the Walnut Street Community Health Center at 24 N. Walnut St. included a ribbon cutting and speeches by State Sen. Donald Munson, R-Wash., and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

The Walnut Street center, which opened at its present location on Dec. 17, 1999, accepts most health plans, but it also offers a sliding fee scale for patients without insurance.

However, it is not in direct competition with the Community Free Clinic, according to a release from the clinic. It works with the Free Clinic to coordinate patient needs and presents it with $50,000 each year.

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"This project was a vision and a mission. I feel fortunate to have seen it through," said H.W. Murphy, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System, Inc. "This won't make everything better, but it will provide primary care with continuity."

Murphy, who has headed the hospital for 20 years, has said he plans to retire by July 2001.

The center, which he decided was necessary seven years ago, was formerly called the Potomac Street Community Health Center. It first opened in 1994 but quickly outgrew that location.

The Potomac Street Clinic initially saw patients who lived in downtown Hagerstown. Now, people from the outskirts of Hagerstown and the Tri-State area come for aid. In the past six years, patient volume has increased from 3,200 to 8,000.

When the center's next stage is completed, Healthy Families Washington County, the Child Advocacy Center, Behavioral Health Systems and the Washington County Health Department Outreach Services will be on the second and third floors of the building.

Dr. Sandra Fowler said the center works so well because of how close the staff has become.

"We were first a small family and now we're a huge family," Fowler said. "When we practice family medicine, we practice it as a family."

The new building was renovated with the financial help of the Washington County Health System Endowment Fund, the State of Maryland, the Washington County Hospital, and private local organizations.

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