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Local free clinic celebrates 10 years

By Staff | Oct 14, 2011

The Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic, located on North Mildred Street in Ranson, recently celebrated 10 years of service to the region. And through help from the community, the clinic has continued to grow over the years, something the clinic will recognize at a dinner and fundraiser come Nov. 17.

The clinic, founded in 2001 by nurse Leona Cook, who now serves as the organization’s lead nurse practitioner, serves individuals throughout the Eastern Panhandle who are without health insurance.

Cook saw the need for such a facility in the county after working as a home health nurse. She approached the Jefferson Memorial Hospital’s director and was told to gain support from other physicians to proceed with her venture.

After Cook and Michele Goldman, the clinic’s co-founder and executive director, garnered support from area doctors and formed a board of directors, they opened in a small space in the hospital one night a week. They operated with no money until the Jefferson County United Way director told Cook about a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which she believed the clinic could qualify for.

“We didn’t have any money,” Cook said, “just some space and some people who were willing to help.”

Cook had just days to submit the grant application. Of the over 298 applications submitted, the clinic walked away with $400,000 to use over four years.

Cook and Goldman immediately began searching for funding partners in the community to match the grant money. And the clinic grew from there.

“We were able to use the money wisely and help people and have a good reputation in the community,” Cook said.

According to Goldman, the clinic caters to patients who meet 150 percent of the federal poverty level. This means that for a single person, the annual income must be just over $16,000 while a typical family of four’s income must be just over $32,500.

“You can imagine it’s hard, especially in the Panhandle,” to make ends meet, Goldman said.

Goldman said that over the years, the clinic has provided medical, pharmaceutical and preventative care services to individuals falling below the poverty line since it opened; however, in more recent years, since the recent recession, the clinic’s clientele has grown as well as the services provided.

“Not only (has there been) an increase in the number of patients, but an increase in the number of professionals,” Goldman said.

She said those having lost their jobs in the recent economic downturn have now turned to the free clinic for services. Cook said the clinic once treated the “forgotten few.” She now feels the clinic treats the “forgotten masses.”

Cook said the clinic has also added counseling and psychiatric care to the bill of services provided, especially for those who are going through tough times for the first time ever.

“We’ve really seen a strong increase in the number of people who need counseling and psychiatry in the turn in the economy,” she said.

And, despite the growing number of patients and need for space to provide the services, Goldman said over the past decade the clinic has operated, the community has helped in terms of donating funds and volunteering time.

So on Thursday, Nov. 17 the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic will host a volunteer recognition dinner at Skyline Ballroom at Hollywood Casino. The dinner will also serve as a fundraiser for the clinic as it will also be a silent and live auction. Individuals can begin bidding on prizes at www.wvepfc.com Saturday, Oct. 15. Bidding continues through Nov. 16.

Some prizes include a week’s stay at the Hattaras, N.C., vacation home of Dr. and Mrs. Dean Russell, who have also provided services to clinic patients over the years; a three-day, two-night stay at Massanutten Resort; and much more.

The funds from the auction will go towards the purchase of medical supplies and generic medications that are not donated through the Patients Assistance Program, according to Stacie Rohn, resource development coordinator at the clinic.

“We are a grassroots organization from the community, and if it weren’t for the community, we wouldn’t be able to provide the services that we do,” Goldman said. “It’s allowed us an opportunity to grow with our growing need.”