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Free clinic helps fill needs of Panhandle's uninsured

August 20, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A clinic that opened in the north end of Martinsburg early in 2005 has been providing services for Eastern Panhandle residents who do not have health insurance.

Since the Good Samaritan Free Clinic at 50 Monroe St., opened Jan. 19, 2005, the clinic has treated and/or given medication to about 1,600 people, according to Tom Shantz, chair of the organization's board of directors.

Family doctor David Morris, a leading volunteer with the clinic, is all too familiar with the health-care need.

"There certainly are an awful lot of people out there with no medical insurance," Morris said.

Nearly 46 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2004, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Though numbers were not available for Berkeley County in 2004, Census officials reported in 2000 that nearly 9,000 county residents had no insurance.

There were another 4,393 uninsured in neighboring Jefferson County, and 1,529 in Morgan County, according to the 2000 data.

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The uninsured include the working poor employed at area restaurants and other service industry businesses, those who suffer from mental illness, and others who simply can't afford to see a doctor, Morris said.

"I've always felt burdened to start a free medical clinic in Martinsburg," said Morris, a practicing physician in Martinsburg for more than 20 years.

When patients arrive at the clinic, now provided space by The Living Room church on Wednesday nights each week, they first meet with a spiritual counselor.

"We're not jamming Christianity down people's throats," Shantz said of the spiritual counseling aspect to the Christian-based organization's services, which are provided at no charge.

Shantz's wife, Karen, volunteers her nursing skill, along with others. The all-volunteer staff includes about a dozen prayer counselors and administrative support staff, two physicians, two physician assistants and six nurses, according to Shantz.

"Obviously, we'd like to expand the hours to more than one night," said Shantz, who moved from Washington County to the Spring Mills community in north Berkeley County five years ago.

In addition to establishing their own treatment center, Shantz said clinic leaders hope to purchase a two-suite medical bus to offer clinical services around Berkeley County. But fundraising for the $150,000 vehicle has been difficult, Shantz said.

'Fun Run' delayed

The organization's 10K "Fun Run" fundraiser scheduled for September at Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg was delayed until March to hopefully attract a few sponsors to make the event viable.

"Right now, I don't know where I stand with it," Shantz said of the postponed race.

Aside from monetary contributions from churches, donations from other sectors of the community have been few and far between, Shantz said.

"I can't get any support," Shantz said.

But the need for services still is prevalent, Morris said.

"It's a massive problem," Morris said. "We haven't put out a lot advertising because we don't want to be overwhelmed."

More information about the Good Samaritan Free Clinic is available at www.goodsamfc.org.

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