Clinic patients up 35% in commonwealth

By Yvette Yeon - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More people are using free clinics, to get their medical treatments. In Virginia alone there's been a 35 percent growth in new patients, in three years. But support is dwindling.

In the forty years the Fan Free Clinic has been around, volunteers say the demand has never been this high. But when their corporate sponsors are hit with the economy as well and individuals are tightening their money belt the clinic is left behind with not a lot of options.

The waiting room is packed. Patients old and new are seeking medical attention because they can't afford to see a doctor anywhere other than at a free clinic. On the other side of the waiting room door volunteer doctors and nurses hustle to meet the patient's needs but there isn't enough space.

"It's more than just an exam room, we need space for education, classes, individual teaching, more lab space, our pharmacy is not big enough, anything you can think about for a clinic, we need more space for that," said Cathy Wheeler, RN, Director of Clinical Operations of the Fan Free Clinic.

Clinics always wish for more but these days the need is greater as more patients like Richard Smith come in, laid off, with no health insurance, and in this case two debilitating diseases.

"I like it, I'm glad it's here if it wasn't here I'd be really...because I can't function at all without my medicine," said Richard Smith, a patient with the Fan Free Clinic.

For many patients like Smith the Fan Free Clinic is their last resort.

"There's no jobs, unemployment doesn't cut it, can't get no health insurance so, had to come here," said Smith.

We know that we just get busier and busier every day, we have patients who say to us, I never imagined being in this situation," said Wheeler.

To support the growing number of patients, the Fan Free Clinic depends on corporate and individual sponsorship. But the demands can't be met in these tough economic times.

"When the economy goes bad a lot more people need us, but monies harder to get," said John Baumann, Executive Director of the Fan Free Clinic.

The need for support will remain high for the next several years but once the health care reform takes place in 2014, the Fan Free Clinic is looking to transition their efforts on preventative care and offer things like dental care.

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