Granting wider access to health care

Westminster clinic offers services for uninsured, underinsured residents

February 18, 2005|By Katie Martin | Katie Martin,SUN STAFF

In the freshly painted waiting room, Annette Stoner picked up a prescription from a nurse behind a sliding-glass window.

Stoner, 42, of Hampstead temporarily lost her health care benefits and could not pay for the medicine she needed, so she turned to a new health care office in Westminster for help.

Access Carroll-Pathways to Health is a nonprofit group that provides primary health care services by appointment to uninsured and underinsured Carroll County residents.

It opened a clinic in a third-floor office on Locust Lane at the beginning of the month.

Access Carroll expects to see about 2,000 county residents annually.

"I couldn't afford to spend hundreds of dollars on medicines," Stoner said. "They worked with me and provided really good care."

The idea of a community clinic has been around for decades, said Dr. Robert Wack, chairman of the Access Carroll steering committee. But the project really began in July, when the group signed a lease for the 2,100-square-foot space on Locust Lane.

The entire space was renovated, and most of the labor and materials were donated, Wack said. He credited general contractor Kevin Stewart of Dependabuild, a Westminster company, with getting the project finished.

At one point, "we had to move some walls because the hallway was the wrong size, and he just rolled up his sleeves and got it done," Wack said.

The new clinic includes four examination rooms, two offices, a waiting room, a children's play area, a front office and storage.

"It's so beautiful inside there, and I know the staff is totally pumped about the new facility, and the patients are raving," Wack said. "I've had people come up to me and say, `Thank goodness you guys finally got this done. We've been talking about this for ... years.'"

Karen Feroli, one of Access Carroll's administrators, said the clinic is another way to address the growing need for health care for county residents with little or no health insurance. More than 40,000 county residents need such services, she said.

"Hopefully, this will just be another open door for patients to access the quality care that they need," Feroli said. "We wanted this to be a really nice place where they are treated just like a normal doctor's office."

Stoner said she was nervous at first about going to the clinic because she was used to her doctor but that Access Carroll nurses provided excellent care.

"Everyone wants to be there," she said. "They are very caring and very thorough."

Stoner said she would be volunteering in the clinic's office because she wants to help others needing help.

Wack said the majority of uninsured and underinsured residents are people with homes and jobs who live day to day with their fingers crossed hoping they don't have a medical crisis.

Access Carroll is not the only source of health care for low-income patients and those with little or no insurance.

Mission of Mercy operates a mobile clinic one day a week at several locations in the county, and Carroll Hospital Center and some private physicians also see such patients.

A community clinic used to operate in the county Health Department, but many of the department's former patients are being treated at Access Carroll since the clinic opened, Wack said.

As soon as the clinic's staff gets day-to-day operations organized, more clients can be accommodated, Feroli said.

The clinic is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Feroli expects it to be fully operational by next month.

Patients will undergo a screening that considers their needs, income and insurance availability. Those who qualify for services will pay based on a sliding scale, Wack said.

"It's not necessarily going to be a free clinic, but, on the other hand, we aren't going to be charging people," Wack said. The clinic probably will ask for donations instead, he said.

Access Carroll provides basic health care, and Carroll Hospital Center donates laboratory and radiology services, Wack said. The hospital and the Health Department provide equipment, supplies and the nursing and administrative staff.

The clinic needs more volunteers for tasks including clerical work in the front office. Feroli said the nonprofit group is also looking for funds or connections with pharmacies that would permit it to provide patients with discounted or free prescriptions.

There is also a need for funds for monthly operating expenses, such as rent, utilities, equipment and supplies, said Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, an umbrella organization that holds and distributes funds for Access Carroll.

Cimino called Access Carroll "a borderline miracle for the community" and said it has been needed for some time.

"With the assistance of a lot of the faith-based community, the Health Department, the hospital, many, many, many volunteers, businesses, physicians and nurses, it's happening," Cimino said. "It's just another wonderful example of what happens in Carroll County when we put our minds to dealing with an issue."

Access Carroll's opening celebration is to be held next month at the Scott Center at Carroll Community College because the clinic "is not big enough to hold everyone we need to thank," Cimino said.

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