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Posted January 3, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Crowding at free clinic impacts patients, staff

By Kim Walter

WOODSTOCK -- The renovation of the Shenandoah County Free Clinic's new building couldn't come at a better time.

Its current location, at 781 Spring Parkway in Woodstock, is 4,200-square-feet, and is impacting patient services just as much as it is staff and volunteer duties. Renovation of the former nursing home on John S. Perry Drive is set to start sometime in February, and the clinic's executive director, Pam Murphy, said she can't wait to get the process moving.

Walking through the facility Thursday afternoon, Murphy pointed out the fact that almost every office in the upstairs portion is used by several people in differing positions.

"Our bookkeeper and psychiatric nurse practitioner share one room and another room is used for storage and serves as an office space for anywhere from three to five nurses," she said. An additional work space is shared by the clinic's developmental director, a cancer screening nurse, the dental coordinator and a social worker.

"It gets tough when we have a family in here discussing some touchy subjects while a couple other people are close-by doing their own separate job," Murphy said.

The downstairs portion of the clinic has several exam rooms, which can hold about four people until it starts to feel a little crunched for space. One of the rooms isn't able to be used for medical purposes during the day because it holds a dental X-ray machine, so the space lends itself to those types of checkups instead.

Besides the waiting area, the downstairs screening room is the largest, and oftentimes more than one patient is answering questions about why they're there.

"It can be uncomfortable for patients, especially when they need to describe the medical condition they're in, and it involves personal details," Murphy said. "People also don't like being weighed in front of others, but unfortunately, it happens."

The clinic can see up to 40 patients on Thursday nights, its busiest time, but that's only if enough volunteers are available. Murphy said the clinic works with area colleges and universities to find some volunteers, but added that when they move into a larger space that can fit more patients, the need for volunteered time will increase.

"It's not just medical volunteers that we need," she said. "When I came to the clinic I had no idea how much of it was administrative work. We always need people to help with making calls or scheduling, things like that."

The small amount of paid workers at the clinic helps provide a consistent minimum of services that are provided to patients, Murphy said, but some core services aren't always available as volunteer doctors are a bit tougher to come by.

Another "disappointment" of the current building is that there are no elevators and the bathrooms are not handicap accessible -- but that will change in the new building, which is one floor. The new space is in a U shape, which will house medical services in one wing and dental services in the other.

Murphy said she hopes the renovation and construction -- the clinic is adding some space -- will be completed sometime in October or November. The project costs around $2 million, and so far half of that has been raised.

"We're definitely still looking for funds," she said. Over 80 percent of the clinic's funding comes from the local community.

When Murphy helped start the free clinic 10 years ago, she said the need for it was apparent, and that need continues to grow.

"When I started, about 32 million people weren't insured, and then during the recession that number was going over 50 million," she said. "It's just an ongoing problem."

She explained that because of health care reform, the clinic may have to switch to a "Medicaid practitioner," since the Department of Social Services said the clinic should expect anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 new Medicaid patients in the county.

"We'll still be here, whether we do it for free or for Medicaid," Murphy said.

Shenandoah County residents may be surprised with how many people need the free clinic, she added. When the economy began to fail, Murphy said she saw a lot of new patients who admitted "they had never had to ask for help before."

"Most of us with jobs and health insurance don't even think about it," she said. "But people are still losing jobs and homes ... I think we're needed now more than ever."

If you're interested in volunteering time or donating funds to the Shenandoah County Free Clinic, call 540-459-1700.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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