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Free clinic plans moving forward

By spring, citizens of Suffolk, Smithfield, Franklin, and Isle of Wight County should have access to a free medical clinic, making the Western Tidewater area the last in Hampton Roads to have such a facility.

For two years, workers from local hospitals, health care providers, and community leaders have talked about and made preliminary plans to open a free clinic.

&uot;We’re still pretty much in the planning stage of the clinic,&uot; said Virginia Savage, president of the Suffolk Partners For A Healthy Community. &uot;We’re still looking for options for sites. But, we’re hoping to see patients in the spring.&uot;

In place now are 11 task forces, each with an area of expertise to create the best and highest quality of plans for the clinic. More than 50 volunteers are currently working on the plans and officials are optimistic about the facility’s potential to impact the community.

The clinic is to act as a primary-care provider for people who need medical attention, but not at an emergency level.

&uot;I work at the hospital and I am aware of how many people have to use the ER as a primary-care provider,&uot; Savage said. &uot;They get wonderful care, but there is no follow-up. Many people say, ‘Doesn’t the health department do that?’ Well, no, they don’t.

“They do a lot of things, but they don’t have a clinic where someone who is sick with a sore throat can come in and be seen (as a health-care provider), they are not funded for that.&uot;

At this clinic, patients will have access to medications through individual programs sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, mental-health care, individual attention from medical professionals and other services desperately missing in the community, such as dental care.

Savage told the story of patients coming in to see a doctor because of a toothache. The ordinary paperwork was filed to transfer the patients to a facility capable of pulling the tooth. But, patients still had to wait up to eight months just to be seen to have the tooth pulled.

&uot;The other thing which is a huge, huge issue is access to dental care,&uot; Savage said. &uot;I can’t say enough about that need. We have several dentists who are willing to work to provide a process that people can get access to dental care.&uot;

Savage also points out that the need for this clinic is increasing as health care insurance premiums increase. From research on various other free clinic operations across the area, Savage found that most people who come to free clinics are not unemployed, but rather are the working class who simply cannot afford an insurance plan on their own.

&uot;The major population served is working people,&uot; Savage said. &uot;These are the people who fall through the cracks, if you are working and you make a certain amount of money over the limit, there’s not help for you. Obviously, as health care insurance premiums increase, small business owners can’t afford to provide health insurance and these people can’t afford to but it for themselves. &uot;

As the clinic plans come together more and more, it is the community interest and desire for the clinic that inspires its growth. Community leaders and hospital workers have become motivated to provide for the patients who have to turn down treatment because of not being able to afford it. More than 150 people have already contacted clinic planning officials to volunteer their services when the clinic is up and running.

&uot;A free clinic is a community effort, no one person, agency, or group can make this happen,&uot; Savage said. &uot;When you put a face to the problem, someone you actually know and know they really deserve to be cared for but don’t have the way or resolve to do that, it becomes a very personal issue. Once the needs (were known), the hearts of people

(were open), we were overwhelmed by the response to that.&uot;

For more information about the clinic, contact Stephi Broadwater at 356-1248.