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Clinic's clientele on the rise

county asked for more money

July 13, 2006|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN

A surge in client visits in the last two years to a Hagerstown clinic that provides free health care to the uninsured has led to a $130,000 budget deficit that forced the facility to stop taking new patients July 1.

It's the first time since the Community Free Clinic opened in 1990 that it has had to stop accepting new patients, Executive Director Robin E. Roberson said Wednesday.

The clinic has more than 100 people on a waiting list for services, , she said. Existing patients will continue to receive health care.

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"There's a great demand for our services in this county," Roberson said. "We are a vital resource for this community."

The Community Free Clinic, at 249 Mill St., asked the Washington County Commissioners for $100,000 on Tuesday to help make up for the deficit.

Even if the clinic is able to come up with the $130,000 shortfall, Roberson said it will need additional money to begin accepting new patients.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Wednesday the commissioners asked the clinic for its financial records for the last three years.

He expects that information to be submitted in the next two to three weeks. The commissioners will probably make a decision on whether to make a contribution in the next 30 to 60 days, Snook said.

Snook said the clinic also would like the commissioners to make an annual contribution.

In 2005, the clinic had 16,670 patient visits, a 49 percent increase over the 11,213 visits in 2004.

So far this year, the clinic has had nearly 9,000 visits and anticipates more than 18,000 visits by the end of the year, Roberson said. It has dispensed 18,174 prescriptions with a retail value of $1.6 million this year, she said.

The clinic provides free medical care, prescription medicine and lab work to uninsured Hagerstown and Washington County residents, according to the clinic.

The clinic has three full-time and six part-time employees, more than 60 volunteers and runs on a budget of about $350,000 a year, Roberson said.

Roberson said the clinic depends on donations, grants, fundraising and contributions from agencies and local government.

Many of the clinic's clients work full time but either can't afford to pay health-care premiums or their employers don't offer the insurance, Roberson said.

"They are just the working poor," she said.

She said many clients are trying to make their lives better by working, but "it's like they're penalized" without being offered or not being able to afford health care.

Other clients are unemployed, homeless or young adults who are no longer eligible under their parents' insurance, Roberson said.

If the commissioners don't contribute the $100,000, Roberson said the clinic isn't going to give up on searching for money.

"We are aggressively seeking funding," she said.

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