Free medical clinic to open this year in downtown Westminster

Office to serve those who lack sufficient insurance

September 15, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A free health clinic for Carroll County families who lack adequate health insurance could open as soon as November, operating at a new space in downtown Westminster as a nonprofit corporation, one of the group's members told the county commissioners yesterday.

Access Carroll will open at 2 Locust Lane, off East Main Street, on a third floor space above David's Jewelers, said Dr. Robert Wack, a pediatrician and member of the group.

Clients will be provided non-urgent care by appointment only, and the clinic will function like any other professional office, he said.

Carroll has a high median income and low unemployment and it doesn't qualify for low-income programs, Wack said, "so this is a problem we're going to have to solve on our own - and we're doing it."

Clinic organizers signed articles of incorporation and began construction this week, he said.

"We'll be out in the community soliciting support. The labor so far is all volunteer," he said.

The monthly operating cost for rent and utilities will be about $3,000, he said.

Other clinics

A small mobile clinic has been operated by the Mission of Mercy at the county health department on South Center Street, but it has limited space and resources.

Larry L. Leitch, the county's health officer, said last week that the clinic there will be closed. Now, the Health Department will contribute a certified nurse four days a week and a doctor for four hours a week at the new clinic. The services are worth about $140,000.

The new space also has an elevator, noted Jolene G. Sullivan, the director of Carroll's Department of Citizen Services.

"The downtown site will be ideal," she said, and "the medical community is coming forward and donating their time."

Carroll has 14,000 to 18,000 uninsured, Wack said, and an additional 24,000 people are considered underinsured due to partial coverage, high co-payments and deductibles that may keep them from seeking health care.

Section 8 rents

In another issue involving low-income residents, Sullivan told the county commissioners that the Bureau of Housing and Community Development wants to avoid a deficit by changing its formula for fair market rents for the Section 8 housing assistance program, due to a change by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The minimum mandatory contribution by clients for rent also will be increased from $25 to $50 a month, the first increase since 1995, she said.

Carroll has vouchers for 549 rental units - the number of families it can assist, not including the city of Westminster, which has its own program. It serves the poor, disabled and elderly whose income limits make them eligible for help.

Since 2002, the bureau had been using a federally permissible payment standard of 110 percent to remain competitive with non-subsidized rents in a tight housing supply, but must reduce this to 100 percent, she said.

Otherwise, said Loretta Greenwell, the housing program manager, "It will leave us short."

Greenwell calculated that the reduction to 100 percent will affect 65 housing vouchers, beginning Oct. 1 - but not all at once, as the recertification process runs over an 18-month cycle. The additional amount clients will pay ranges from $3 to $134 a month, she said.

The commissioners approved the changes, but suggested that a small increase be considered yearly in the flat minimum contribution to avoid another sudden jump.

"Every time these rents go up, it is making affordable housing less available in Carroll County," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said. "So unless the landlords are willing to take less money, we do not have affordable housing in Carroll County."

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