Eastern Panhandle may get free clinic

March 14, 2001

Eastern Panhandle may get free clinic

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

Low income residents of the Eastern Panhandle will have a place to receive free health care if plans now being developed come together.

The Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic would be based in Ranson, said Leona Richards of Bunker Hill, a nurse practitioner, member of the board of the free clinic and one of the leaders of the effort.

The group has lined up the Ranson police station for the clinic. It should be available this summer once the police move out, she said. Volunteers have been rounded up to help, including doctors and health care professionals.

The main obstacle to moving forward is money, Richards said. The group anticipates needing about $86,000 the first year to pay such costs as malpractice insurance, fire insurance and other overhead costs, she said.


The group has made numerous public presentations and has collected $1,000 to date.

"I think people are kind of waiting to see," Richards said. "They don't see us doing anything yet. Once we get going, it should be a lot easier."

The need exists in the Panhandle for the service, said Richards, who has been working on the idea for three years.

About 13,000 people in Berkeley and Jefferson counties have no health insurance. The idea would be to provide free health care, including medication, to people who meet a certain level of poverty based on the poverty line. That amount has not been determined, she said.

Based on the nine other free clinics in West Virginia, the clinic should be busy.

The clinic in Charleston served 13,104 patients who made 40,532 visits last year, she said. In Wheeling, the clinic served 11,425 people who made 28,700 visits.

The nine clinics also dispensed $8 million in free drugs.

"I work in a rural health clinic to pay my bills and I see this all the time," Richards said of the many people needing free health care.

Washington County has been served by the Community Free Clinic since 1990, said Executive Director Jeffrey Downin. The clinic had 10,142 patient visits in 2000, up from about 8,300 the year before. Part of the increase came from the decision last year to provide medication to those on Medicare, which does not cover prescription drugs.

Downin said many of their patients are "people who work but their company doesn't provide insurance, or the company does provide insurance but it costs too much to pay." The clinic does not screen patients based on income, but on whether the individual has insurance. He's pleased to hear of the efforts in the Panhandle.

"We receive people from Martinsburg and the Falling Waters area and northern West Virginia who have heard about our program," Downin said.

Richards said the board of the proposed clinic includes a cross section of specialists needed to ensure the program runs well. They have received numerous donations, including the Ranson police station.

They have solicited civic groups, elected officials, churches, the AARP and others looking for funds. The health care community has been supportive in trying to get the clinic going, she said.

Downin said Washington County Hospital has supported their efforts, since it takes some of the load away from them.

No date has been set for the clinic to open its doors, Richards said.

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