Only free clinic in county is ailing financially

NEIGHBORS

May 16, 2001|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST WEEK, a young man with no health insurance sat in the waiting room of the only free clinic in Howard County. The man, who asked not to be identified, had been referred to the clinic by the county Health Department.

"I probably wouldn't have care without this place," he said. "What else could I do? Insurance is so expensive."

The young man said he doesn't think people understand that there are plenty of people living in this affluent community who are in his situation.

"Most people who live in Howard County have the money it takes to live in Howard County. They don't know that there are people who fall through the cracks, people who are struggling," he said. "The cost of health care in this country is outrageous. You just put it off if you don't have the money."

The clinic, which is operated by Health Alliance for Patients in Need, opened in December 1998. Now it is in danger of closing unless additional funding is found. The clinic receives philanthropic donations and foundation funding, but not enough to sustain the operation.

Dr. Gary Milles is the clinic's medical director and a member of its board. "We got a grant from the Horizon Foundation that was for a limited amount of time." he said. "It's going to expire in December. When that expires, unless we find some funding, we're out of business."

The alliance provides health care for county residents with lower incomes and no health insurance. Staffed by volunteer physicians, nurses and clerical help, the clinic provides primary care, specialist referrals, pharmaceutical assistance and laboratory services for its patients.

"These are not people who are on Medicaid," Milles said. "These are people who are working poor, who are indigent or who are refugees. Some of these people have never had care before. They come in with diabetes, heart failure and multiple cancers. The irony is that they work too much to get Medicaid or other support."

Hillery Scavo, chairman of the alliance's board, said 40 percent to 60 percent of the clinic's patients are refugees.

"We work hand-in-hand with FIRN [Foreign-born Information & Referral Network], Grassroots and the county Health Department. We have to turn people away because we just don't have a place to put them. We started with 60 patients and within one year, we were up to 300. We have 50 people on the waiting list. We need to expand," she said.

Milles said funding isn't the only help the clinic needs. "We need more administrative people to coordinate care. We need more doctors, translators, health educators and pharmaceutical support. If we can't get support from the community, we can't continue to operate," he said.

Scavo said, "We're hoping to get small donations from churches and from corporations that hire our clients at a very low rate. If every one of them made a $1,000 contribution to our clinic, it would add up. If every person in this community gave $10, we'd be fine. I think a lot of people aren't aware that some of their neighbors are suffering in silence. I think if our community knew about these people, they would want to help us."

The clinic's address is 5900 Cedar Lane, Suite 1, Columbia 21044. Clinic hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Information or to volunteer: 410-884-7831.

Cub Scouts clean

The Town Center Community Association wants to thank Cub Scout Pack 615 for its help with Columbia Cleans Day on April 28. The Scouts picked up trash along Vantage Point Road. "They did a great job, and we thank them," said Holly Chapman, the association's events coordinator.

Scout families who participated in the clean-up include: Jack, Thomas and Sean Foley; Debbie and Sam Rubin; Diane, Will, Nick and Sophie Reynolds; Mark and Adam Carr; Donna and Corey Lyman, Ruth, Phillippe and Tobias Kappelar; Tim, Ryan and Abbey Stranahan; and Zach and Eitan Fisch.

Educator award

Brian Fuller, a fifth-grade teacher at Swansfield Elementary School, was chosen this year's recipient of the First Year Educator Award for elementary school teachers in Howard County.

The award honors those in their first, and often most challenging, year in the profession. Each year, an elementary school teacher and a middle or high school teacher are chosen. Glenelg High School teacher Deano Smith is the other honoree this year.

Before becoming a teacher, Fuller, 28, worked in sales and then was a government contractor for the Department of Defense. He said he decided to teach because "I wanted to do something that contributed to society, something I felt would make a difference."

"It was a huge, huge honor to receive the award," Fuller said. "Reading the portfolio they put together for the nomination packet from parents, teachers and students made me cry. To know that the stuff I'm teaching in school, they're really listening to - I don't always see that in the classroom. It really hit home with me that I was really making a difference."

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