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With demand up, lack of funds threatens free health clinics

HUDSON — A faith-based free clinic that treats uninsured patients could be closing next month if it doesn't get more donations.

Healing Hands Health Center in the Scott Medical Plaza at 13910 Fivay Road, Suite 10, needs at least $1,500 a month to stay open, said David Kennedy, a retired paramedic and clinic volunteer.

Rent went from $1,000 a month to $1,400 a month, Kennedy said. The agency negotiated a $900 monthly rate, but even that's too expensive.

"We're still going to have to find someplace cheaper," he said.

Donations typically are a few hundred dollars a month from some nurses who have it deducted from their paychecks. Clinic volunteers often reach into their own pockets to keep the lights on and the water running.

"The well's starting to run dry again," Kennedy said. "If we don't get any help, we won't have any choice but to move out and put ourselves in storage."

The clinic, which opened about seven years ago as an outreach of Calvary Worship Center, treats patients who have no insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. Patients have no forms to fill out and can get treated immediately for free.

That's important because many suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

"These people are walking time bombs," Kennedy said.

An all volunteer staff of doctors and nurses sees patients and writes prescriptions for drugs that can be obtained free or cheaply from local pharmacies. Free samples donated by drug companies are provided if they are available.

"They can walk out of here with the medicine they need to save their lives," Kennedy said.

This isn't the first time the clinic has faced financial peril. In late 2005, Healing Hands closed for several months after unexpectedly losing a rent-free arrangement it had enjoyed with one building owner. By early 2006, a couple of local real estate businessmen agreed to subsidize the clinic.

A year later, the two benefactors could no longer afford to continue supporting it. The clinic had less than $50 in the bank and faced a $1,200 rent payment. A doctor who volunteered at the clinic covered the rest of the rent that month.

Despite the continual struggle to pay bills, the clinic won't apply for grants. Such funding would create red tape, forcing patients to first apply and get denied for Medicaid before they could be treated, Kennedy said.

"In the meantime, they could have a stroke," he said.

The clinic is open the first three Tuesday evenings of every month.

No one is turned away, and patients are offered prayer.

Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco, in New Port Richey, also provides free medical care to the uninsured. Because that clinic receives federal community block grant money, it has to ensure that the patients qualify for the services, said executive director Melissa Fahy. That means the patients must first document that they've applied for Medicaid and been rejected.

Fahy said her clinic is also packed and is finding it tough to stay afloat.

"We had 19 patients come to qualify in one day," she said. That's usually as many as show up in one week. The clinic got a grant to hire an advanced registered nurse practitioner, but that is about to expire. County budget cuts also are a distinct possibility.

"The free clinics need to get together to have a spaghetti dinner fundraiser," she said. "We're all in this together."

Healing Hands volunteers have seen the same need. Most Tuesdays the waiting room is packed. Some days, the line starts forming outside nearly an hour before it opens at 5 p.m.

Premier Community HealthCare Group, which has east side locations and last year expanded to west Pasco, also treats the uninsured but charges on a sliding fee scale based on income. It also treats patients on Medicaid as well as those with private plans. CARES senior health clinic in New Port Richey serves people ages 55 and older who don't qualify for federal programs.

Fahy said Premier has been a help, but the copay may still be too much for some.

"Twenty dollars might as well be a million dollars for some of these people," she said.

Volunteers at Healing Hands say they can only hope donations, which are tax deductible, come through.

"We try to keep costs to a minimum," said Dr. Ritchie Plummer, who has volunteered at the clinic since it opened. "We'll just have to rely on the good Lord to provide for us."

With demand up, lack of funds threatens free health clinics 06/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 8:38pm]
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