Free clinic moving to larger facility in July

June 07, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va.-- One day last week, all the nooks and crannies in the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic's building, including the kitchen, were jammed with patients, medical providers, administration staffers and visitors.

It all changes for the better July 13 when the clinic moves from its overcrowded quarters at 11065 Middleway Pike to a building at 1212 N. Mildred St. in Charles Town, where working space is nearly three times bigger, from 2,400 square feet to around 6,600 square feet.

The rent will be nearly three times bigger too, from $1,600 a month to $4,000 a month.

To compensate, the annual budget will increase by another $100,000 to $600,000, said Michelle Goldman, the clinic's executive director.

"Every year, it's a leap of faith," Goldman said about whether the clinic can continue to serve the nearly 2,000 patients who come in every year for medical care. "We'll just have to do more fundraising next year."


Seniors on Medicare, workers whose insurance comes with their jobs, the very poor, adults and children eligible for Medicaid, and the wealthy can't get the clinic's services.

Its only purpose is serving those who fall between the cracks for primary medical care, such as people with minimum-wage jobs without benefits, educated and skilled workers who lost good jobs with benefits because of cutbacks and layoffs, college students and single, working mothers with no insurance, Goldman said.

"The free clinic becomes a safety net for those people," she said. "We really are a major source of health care in the community."

There is a stigma about free clinics that Goldman said must constantly be overcome.

"Some people think of a free clinic as a place where you have to wait in line for seven hours to be seen, or that the quality of care is not as good, that we are limited in what we can provide or that only poor people use free clinics," she said. "I've even had people think they can get abortions here."

About half of the clinic's budget comes from the state. The rest comes from the United Way, grants and most of all from private donations from people in the community, most of which are $1,000 or less.

"There's no amount too small," Goldman said. "We've had small change to a few dollars from patients who feel they want to pay something."

The clinic has about 200 volunteers, which also keeps costs down. Free laboratory work and X-rays are provided by Jefferson Memorial Hospital and City Hospital. Drug companies provide many of the drugs the clinic prescribes. Area physicians donate services.

Free clinics around the country are not eligible for federal stimulus money, lamented Goldman.

"This is where it's really needed," she said.

"The move (to North Mildred Street) is more than appropriate. The number of patients is going up," said George Kidwiler, president of the clinic's board of directors. A licensed psychotherapist, Kidwiler volunteers at the clinic.

The added space will make it easier for the clinic to fill its role as a hands-on training facility for area nursing and social work students, Kidwiler said. Students often come back once they earn their degrees and licenses to volunteer at the clinic, he said.

The morale of patients, volunteers and staffers will also improve with larger quarters. The building on North Mildred Street will give the clinic increased visibility and provide room to expand if needed, Goldman said.

The building's most recent tenant was a satellite facility of EastRidge Health Systems in Martinsburg, W.Va.


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