By Katie Demeria
The Shenandoah County Free Clinic and Shenandoah Dental Clinic have operated under the same leadership and within the same facility, but now they will finally be officially combined as the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic.
Executive Director Pam Murphy said the decision to combine the clinics under one name was made both as a response to community needs as well as the changing national health care climate.
"Once the Affordable Care Act passed, or was in the process of passing, and the ramifications of that became clear, our board did some strategic planning and really thought through what some of the particulars of that might be, one of them being that we were likely to become more than what people think of as the classic model of a free clinic," Murphy said.
Consolidating the two clinics to create the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic has one immediate, practical benefit, Murphy said -- it is much easier to say. And since the mission of helping underinsured, low-income families is the same for both, Murphy said it made sense to group them together.
Another benefit of the new name, she added, is hopefully avoiding the stigma usually associated with free clinics. Some patients are distraught over having to take what they refer to as charity.
"There was really a stigma around it, because they were coming to a free clinic, they had been self-supporting for decades, and hard workers, and down on their luck," she said. "We hated that. We see this as a cooperative effort, a collaboration of community resources trying to help our neighbors and help each other -- we don't see it as charity."
The consolidation should be followed by plans to expand within the next few months, as well.
Recently, Murphy said, they received a grant of $70,000 from the Virginia Health Care Foundation. With the money, they will hire a full-time nurse practitioner and double their hours.
In the clinic's reevaluation of its role within the community, Murphy said they conducted a survey to find out what new needs the area would have if Virginia expands Medicaid.
The survey revealed that all the physicians in the area would be able to take on a total of 200 new patients. But 1,600 Shenandoah County residents will benefit from Medicaid expansion, leaving a hefty gap.
The clinic is hoping to start accepting Medicaid as a means of filling that gap.
They will continue to help the uninsured, though, she said. Expansion, she pointed out, would offer coverage to individuals within 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Right now, the health clinic serves patients living within 200 percent of the level.
Murphy said the clinic has always been a safety net for residents when they are down on their luck, and they will continue to meet those needs.
"It breaks my heart when we have patients who say they didn't come to us for a year because they thought there were people more in need than them," she said. "We want to be there to help you get as much out of your life as you can."
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org