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Recession sending more people to free clinic

March 29, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Michele Goldman said she sometimes wishes people who drive by 11065 Middleway Pike knew "what we do here in this 2,400-square-foot building."

Goldman is director and co-founder of the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic, which handles about 1,900 patients a year from six eastern West Virginia counties, most of whom live in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

It's about the only place in the Eastern Panhandle where West Virginians with no health insurance can go for primary medical care. The wealthy can buy health insurance, many who are employed have it through work and the very poor qualify for Medicaid.

Among the clinic's patients are those with minimum-wage jobs with no benefits, college students without insurance, even homeless people.

"Some of our patients live in tents or under bridges, or move around from relative to relative," Goldman said.

Many are educated, well-trained people who had good-paying jobs with health insurance until they lost them through layoffs and cutbacks, she said. Many suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart conditions, and need continuous treatment. The free clinic is the only place they can get it.

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"We provide their safety net," Goldman said.

The clinic serves patients ages 19 to 65.

The reason the clinic can operate on its $500,000 annual budget is because of its 200-plus volunteers, the charity of Jefferson Memorial and City hospitals in providing clinic patients with free laboratory work and X-rays, the drug companies that provide drugs that allow the clinic to offer free medications to its patients and area physicians who treat them at no cost, Goldman said.

But things are getting worse because of the recession, Goldman said.

"Before, we were accepting about 50 new patients a month. Now it's 30 a week," she said.

None of the federal government's stimulus money goes to free clinics, "and this is where the money should go," she said.

Louise Frame, 41, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., provides a good example of a typical clinic patient.

"I worked at a factory in Winchester (Va.) for 17 years at a good salary with health insurance until I was laid off," she said.

She found other jobs, as a bartender and at Charles Town Races & Slots. Things became desperate when she came down with a chronic illness.

"One day I was on my way to work at the track and I was so sick I could hardly drive. I saw the sign (for the clinic) and stopped in," she said.

Frame was put on a medical regimen to treat her disease. She was eventually hired by the clinic as a patient resource specialist.

Today it's her job to refer clinic patients to specialists.

For more information about the clinic or to send a donation, call 304-724-6091 or send e-mail to epfc@frontiernet.net.

  

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