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Patient load soars at clinic

August 29, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The number of patients being seen at a free medical clinic in Jefferson County has tripled since March, the director of the center said Wednesday.

The Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic was seeing about 25 patients a week in March but that number has risen to 75 patients a week, Leona Richards said.

Richards said the increase reflects the large number of people in the community who cannot afford health insurance.

"We could be serving more. We're just hitting the tip of the iceberg," said Richards, adding that the clinic has a list of people waiting to become patients.

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Richards was working as a home health care nurse when she saw firsthand how people were struggling with high medical costs.

Patients often took matters into their own hands, regardless of the doctor's orders, Richards said.

Because patients could not afford their medicines, they would sometimes cut pills into four sections to make them last longer, Richards said.

Others would take blood pressure medicine one month, and their diabetes medicine the following month, thinking that would be enough to treat their complications, she said. That was when Richards decided the community needed a clinic to offer free medicine and health care.

The family nurse practitioner asked Jefferson Memorial Hospital and its medical staff for support and got it.

Doctors at the hospital agreed to volunteer time at the clinic to see patients. Community professionals, like attorneys and accountants, agreed to form a board of directors to run the center, said Richards.

Since March, the free clinic has been awarded a grant to help run the center and it has moved to a permanent location.

Although the clinic has received a $393,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Richards emphasized to the local community that the clinic must have local monetary support to guarantee the money.

The $393,000 is to be distributed over four years, but to make sure the clinic gets the full amount, enough local money has to be raised, or "matched," that is equal to the amount coming from the foundation, said Richards.

This year, for example, $101,000 was raised to guarantee the $101,000 that came from the foundation this year, said Richards.

Next year, $135,000 will have to be raised locally to guarantee that amount of money from the foundation, said Richards.

Until the nearly 1-year-old clinic could find a permanent home, it was temporarily housed in a building owned by Jefferson Memorial Hospital on 5th Avenue in Ranson.

On July 4, the clinic moved into a former state Department of Health and Human Resources building along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The owner of the building, Russell Roper, gave the center a reduced lease rate, said Richards.

An open house ceremony at the clinic is being planned for Sept. 26 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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