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Free clinic increasing services

Pulaski Free Clinic(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of a series of articles that will help the community learn more about Pulaski County United Way, the 21 agencies it supports and agency services.)

By Demetria Somervell

Pulaski County United Way

The Free Clinic of Pulaski County has dramatically increased services to the uninsured citizens of our county. During the past year over 1,400 patients were treated, 300 of them new patients. More than 185 specialty referrals were made. The clinic also provided free medication to approved patients through its medication assistance program.

Patients of the free clinic are thankful for this help. “I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for the free clinic,” one patient commented. “They found what was wrong with me and I am getting better every day.  God bless this clinic and the folks who work here!”

Debbie Suddarth, executive director of the clinic, says that adding services has increased the resources needed for the clinic to meet patient needs. Suddarth explained some of the innovative solutions used in meeting these needs.

“The Free Clinic of Pulaski County is fortunate to be able to collaborate with outside schools, agencies and healthcare systems,” Suddarth said.  “The Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine sends an attending physician and four second-year medical students every Friday to see patients.  Radford University will send four senior nursing students for a clinical rotation starting in January 2014.”

LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski and Carilion Clinic also provide numerous services, ranging from laboratory and radiology to surgery and physical therapy. For treatment that cannot be found locally, referrals are made to the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Dr. Kyndal Beavers, a part-time physician, sees patients at the free clinic. “It is a privilege to work with a staff who is devoted to the healthcare of the uninsured of Pulaski County.  It is an exciting place to work and the patients are so grateful for what they receive.  Our team approach in providing good medical services is just one of the many positive aspects of this clinic.  I know the patients realize the parameters of our services yet they express their appreciation to us every day for what we can do.”

Several community organizations provide other types of support to the clinic and its patients. Through Goodwill Industries, the clinic receives 20-hours of office support per week. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) partners with the free clinic, helping out in a variety of ways and with different projects. Many area churches donate money and volunteer time to the clinic.

The staff and volunteers at the free clinic are all committed to meeting the needs of the patients they serve. “It’s a friendly place,” one patient commented.  “The staff really helps me a lot.”

The Free Clinic of Pulaski County began in 1988 when a group of concerned citizens came together in order to serve the uninsured. While the clinic has been housed in different locations over the years, in 2011, the board approved the purchase of its current location on Fourth Street in Pulaski. This medical facility contains more space, allows better setup and provides the ability to expand services. As evidenced this year, the expansion of services is important.

Current health care reforms have left many people wondering about services of the free clinic. Suddarth explained, “Although Medicaid reform is underway, it is still unclear what the parameters will be for free clinic patients.  However, it is certain that many of the current patients will not qualify for Medicaid; therefore they will need continued medical care at the clinic.” She added, “It is the hope and goal of the clinic to remain strong in the medical community and continue serving all eligible patients for many years to come.”

One long-time patient explained the importance of being able to continue receiving services at the clinic: “I have been coming here a long time and I don’t want to go anywhere else.  They know me and know what’s wrong and take care of it.”

Even with volunteers and collaborative programs, the free clinic depends upon financial support to continue providing services to the uninsured in our community. Monetary donations from private donors, grants, civic community groups, local governments and healthcare systems are required to provide resources and meet needs.

The Free Clinic of Pulaski County is a partner agency of the Pulaski County United Way. Suddarth reports that for every $1 given through Pulaski County United Way, $10 worth of medical care and supplies are offered to clinic patients. “No donation is too small and all are greatly appreciated,” Suddarth said.

The clinic is open Wednesday – Friday and sees existing patients by appointment during that time. A walk-in clinic for new patients only is open every 2nd and 3rd Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. Suddarth encourages anyone with questions or anyone needing additional information to contact the clinic office at 980-0922.

For additional information about Pulaski County United Way and its partner agencies, volunteer opportunities and ways that you can help, call 980-2537.