Hundreds of new patients have stressed the finances of the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown, compelling its board of directors this week to decide not to accept any new patients for the time being.
"We will sustain care for patients who are already established," Clinic Executive Director Robin Roberson said Friday.
The decision came because the clinic on Mill Street has seen an influx of 718 new patients this year, people who have not received treatment at the clinic previously, Roberson said.
Those additional patients have the clinic on track to have more than 16,000 patient visits this year, up from 13,798 in 2010, she said.
The clinic was accepting about 40 new patients a month early in the year, but that number exceeded 80 a month in July, August and September, Roberson said.
The increase in patients has coincided with a decrease in funding, Roberson said.
"We have seen a 60 percent decrease in general contributions" this year, Roberson said. "The economy has hit us hard for contributions across the board.
"The board decided Thursday to stop taking new patients until we're able to secure a substantial amount of funding to get us through this fiscal year," she said.
A similar situation arose in 2006 when demand outstripped funding, Roberson said.
"We stopped taking new patients for about six months until we became stable enough that we felt we could reopen to new patients," she said.
The clinic, which has an operating budget of about $800,000, receives no state or federal funding, Roberson said.
Main sources of funding include the Washington County Gaming Commission, the city of Hagerstown, the Community Partnership for Children and Families, the United Way of Washington County, grants, corporate and individual donations, and fund-raisers, she said.
"I've been here for a couple of years, and I'm grateful to them because they've helped me out in so many ways," said Debra Dieterich of Hagerstown. "If it wasn't for the free clinic, I wouldn't be getting any care at all because I couldn't afford to see a regular physician."
Dieterich had been unemployed until she recently obtained a part-time job and her husband is on disability, she said. She has some pre-existing medical conditions, but is not old enough for Medicare and is not on medical assistance, Dieterich said.
Roberson said about 80 percent of the clinic's clients are working, but are either not offered health coverage through their jobs or cannot afford coverage.
She said the demographics of clients are also changing, with people in their 40s and 50s coming in who have recently become jobless, or lost coverage.
Other areas of increase have included people seeking acute care, Roberson said. That rose from about 50 visits a month early in the year to 97 in July, 96 in August and 103 in September, she said.
Those people who are not established free clinic patients will have to go to an urgent-care facility or an emergency room if they have a sudden need for medical care, Roberson said.
More people are also coming in with diabetes or are being diagnosed with the disease who cannot afford insulin and testing equipment, Roberson said.
The year started out with about 150 visits a month from diabetics, but that number was 292 in September, she said.
An anonymous donor recently approached the clinic, offering a $10,000 matching contribution if the clinic can meet that goal, Roberson said.
Anyone wanting to donate to the clinic can make a donation to the Community Free Clinic, 249 Mill St., Hagerstown 21740, or make a secure online donation to www.cfcwc.com