WTFC marks 10 years

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Western Tidewater Free Clinic celebrated 10 years of medical services to the region on Wednesday.

Board members, government representatives and others met at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront for the clinic’s 10th Anniversary Forum, on the same day the clinic first opened on Godwin Boulevard.

Delegate S. Chris Jones was a member of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic Steering Committee, formed in 2004 in partnership with the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community, now known as HealthySuffolk.

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He spoke about opening the clinic in 2007, in a small rental house with a handful of volunteers for two nights a week.

Since it opened, and with the help of community partners such as the Obici Healthcare Foundation, the clinic has served more than 4,700 patients.

These patients were provided medications at no cost to them, totaling more than $32 million worth based on average retail value, according to Western Tidewater Free Clinic executive director Chester M. “Chet” Hart.

“It’s amazing to see what’s occurred in just 10 years,” Jones said.

He said the clinic’s relocation in 2009 to its current Meade Parkway address was essential to meeting patient needs.

“It was a game changer to provide the level of services needed in the community,” he said.

The clinic set new records in 2016 with 18,022 patient visits and $5.3 million in dispensed medications, Hart said, and it is on track to set new records in 2017.

Hart recognized the donors, sponsors, and staff that made this possible, along with the volunteers that have collectively recorded more than 113,000 hours serving patients at the clinic.

“It’s just a wonderful place,” said Suffolk resident June Rice, a weekly volunteer nurse at Western Tidewater Free Clinic. “The patients are always so thankful and so grateful.”

Virginia State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine spoke about how the clinic has become critical in addressing health crises in the region, including rising opioid addiction and diabetes cases, plus healthcare disparities locally and throughout the state.

“We have some of the healthiest counties in the country, and some of the least-healthy counties in the country, within an eight-hour drive,” she said.

Dr. L.D. Britt talked about his experiences with poor healthcare growing up in Suffolk, which inspired him to devote his career to helping the patients that remain uninsured.

“The greatest challenge in this country is healthcare disparity,” Britt said.

He said the Western Tidewater Free Clinic should be a template for health care throughout the country. That sentiment was shared by Levine, as she described her dream for Virginia to be the healthiest state in the nation.

“I think (Western Tidewater Free Clinic) can lead the way, as they are doing today,” she said.

Stephie Broadwater, Chair of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic Board of Directors, agreed that there is more work to be done.

Clinic staff and volunteers receive an average of 1,400 to 1,500 patients annually, but according to available demographics, approximately 8,000 western Tidewater citizens could be eligible for their services, Broadwater said.

“To meet the health care needs in our community, the strategic plan adopted by the clinic’s board of directors has a goal to double to the annual number of patients treated,” she said.

To better serve these patients, additional outreach programs are being evaluated, along with an expansion of the current facility.

“Our 10th anniversary is a perfect time to take another leap of faith, as the founders of Western Tidewater Free Clinic did in 2007 when the doors opened,” Broadwater said. “I’m excited about the possibilities of what we can accomplish together.”