Community Free Clinic hopes to take new patients again by March

Fundraiser boosts clinic coffers

January 29, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Roseann Fisher, left, and Alice Growden scan items for on the auction block Sunday to raise money the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown. The event was held at the Gourmet Goat Restaurant & Martini Bar in downtown Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The executive director for the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown said Sunday she was hopeful the clinic could start accepting new patients again by early March.

“We have had an outpouring of support from the community and we’re hopeful that either in mid-February or early March, we can begin to take new patients again,” Executive Director Robin Roberson said Sunday during a fundraising event for the clinic.

Whether the 249 Mill St. clinic accepts all new patients or has to limit the number of new patients hasn’t yet been determined, Roberson said. One possibility is the clinic could limit the number of new patients to the number of patients the clinic no longer serves, Roberson said. One reason patients stop visiting the clinic is because they become eligible for health insurance, she said.

The clinic, which serves medically uninsured Washington County residents for free, stopped seeing new patients as of Oct. 21 due to funding issues.

The clinic got a boost Sunday when the Wine and Cheese, Silent and Lively Auction fundraiser for the clinic, held at the Gourmet Goat Restaurant & Martini Bar in downtown Hagerstown, raised at least $16,740 for the clinic, Roberson said.

Paul Deputy, who co-owns the Gourmet Goat with Steve Cook, set a goal of raising $12,000 on Sunday.

Roberson said the results of Sunday’s fundraiser were “amazing,” and the total raised was expected to go up.

Roberson thanked the restaurant’s owners and staff, people who attended the fundraiser, and the people and businesses who donated items for the auctions.

In November, Roberson said the clinic needed approximately $500,000 to cover its operating expenses for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, and to reopen the doors to new patients.

On Sunday, Roberson said the clinic was close to raising the $500,000, but that while the clinic was raising money, it also was spending money to continue caring for patients. She could not say how much more money the clinic needed to meet the $500,000 mark.

This is the second time the free clinic has temporarily stopped admitting new patients due to a lack of funding, Roberson said. In 2006, the clinic ceased seeing new patients for six months, she said.

To save money, the clinic changed its hours in November, closing on Fridays, but extending its hours Monday through Thursday. The clinic, which sees patients by appointment only, opens at 7 a.m. and stays open until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. some nights, Roberson said.

Despite not adding new clientele, the clinic has approximately 3,500 active patients and had more than 15,000 patient visits in 2011, Roberson said. A year ago, Roberson said the clinic had about 4,000 active patients and 15,000 patient visits.

Clinic demand has grown as more people have lost their jobs and health insurance, she said.

“Winter is an especially difficult time of year for our clientele because of heating expenses and other things that they don’t have other times of the year. So we find we provide a lot more medication and services to patients in the winter,” Roberson said.

Fundraisers, such as the one Sunday at the Gourmet Goat, help the clinic raise needed money, Roberson said.

“They get no federal funding whatsoever,” Deputy said. This is the third year the restaurant has hosted the Wine and Cheese, Silent and Lively Auction fundraiser for the clinic.

“It is our duty as a society to help those who cannot afford health insurance, which unfortunately is a lot of us,” Deputy said.

The 2011 fundraiser at the 41 N. Potomac St. restaurant and martini bar generated $10,135 for the clinic, according to Herald-Mail archives.

Among the auction items were jewelry, handmade scarves, a quilted wall hanging, two round-trip Cape Air tickets from Hagerstown to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a Las Vegas timeshare, and a house concert by jazz vocalist Kerensa Gray.

Gray was performing at Sunday’s fundraiser.

Karla Auch, 47, of Hagerstown, said she was hoping to win the bid for the house concert. She wanted to present the concert as a gift to her partner, who is celebrating her third year as a breast cancer survivor.

“I’m a big supporter of the clinic and I’m fortunate that I’m not one of the ones that have to use it,” Auch said.

Mary Ann Keyser, 61, of Hagerstown, also was perusing the bid opportunities Sunday.

“I think everyone has the right to health care. Unfortunately, our nation doesn’t provide it as yet,” Keyser said.

Jeff Czerbinski, co-owner of the Washington County Playhouse across the street from the restaurant, donated several admissions to a dinner and show at the playhouse.

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