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Free clinic lets public Mill about new home

October 24, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

No more damp cellars, echoing conversations or tight hallways for the Community Free Clinic, which showed off its new home on Mill Street on Saturday.

Five days a week, the clinic opens its doors to the poor and underinsured, providing free medical care.

On Saturday, the doors were open to anyone who wanted a look.

"We have 5,300 square feet," or 1,500 more than the clinic had at 18 W. Franklin St., Executive Director Robin E. Roberson said. "It's incredibly better. There's no comparison."

As guests snacked on cheese, crackers, vegetables and champagne punch, Roberson gave a tour of the building's offices, five exam rooms and medical storage rooms, and its conference and patient education room.

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Dr. Martin Gallagher opened the Community Free Clinic in 1990. It operated in donated space at the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission on North Prospect Street for four years, then rented a building on West Franklin Street for 10 years.

Gallagher remembered the clinic having to endure the stench of a sewer leak and having a bathroom that, inconveniently, was in an exam room.

Since medicine was stored in exam rooms, patients had to cover themselves before someone came in on an errand. To minimize intrusions, the clinic set aside one day a week - Thursday - for gynecological treatment, Gallagher said.

Roberson said the basement on West Franklin Street was damp and moldy and the high ceilings caused sounds from several rooms to bounce around and mix.

One of the biggest benefits of the new building is "we will never have to worry about getting kicked out," Gallagher said.

The clinic decided in January that it would move from 18 W. Franklin St. when it learned the building was for sale, Roberson said.

In March, an anonymous benefactor said the clinic should own a building and offered to pay a portion of the cost.

Before long, the clinic found out that the Hagerstown Heart cardiology practice was leaving 249 Mill St., near Washington County Hospital, and moving to Howell Road, near Edgewood Drive.

Roberson said the agreement with the anonymous benefactor stipulates that the amount of the donation not be disclosed.

She did say, though, that the Community Free Clinic is required to pay off its share of the debt.

The clinic is kicking off a capital campaign in December. The fund-raising goal is $300,000, she said.

According to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records, the clinic bought the building from W. Stephen Hood and Linda M. Hood on Oct. 1 for $525,000.

Roberson said Hood, of Hagerstown Heart, left the building in great shape and well decorated, so the clinic moved right in.

Gallagher said that having parking, lighting and a security system is a big plus.

"It's as if the building were built for us," Roberson said.

The clinic reopened on Mill Street on Oct. 4.

In 2003, the clinic had about 10,000 patient visits. Roberson said that number is about 8,300 this year and likely will reach 11,000.

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