By BILL RETTEW JR.
21st Century Media
PHOENIXVILLE—Valley Township resident Tanya Hunt is just one of nearly 100,000 patients who visited with a physician during the past 11 years at The Clinic, a pay-what- you-can-afford medical center for the uninsured.
Opened in 2002, The Clinic will reach the 100,000 milestone for office visits with a physician in November.
Hunt said she’s in better health and weathered a pair of stretches of unemployment thanks to The Clinic. She is uninsured and was unable to afford the $594 monthly premium for health insurance through a COBRA plan with a previous employer.
“I get really good care here,” Hunt said. “I can come to a place like this rather than go to an emergency room that has real emergencies. Everybody respects you. You don’t feel like you’re less of a person because you come to a clinic.”
Karen Larsen, director of development at The Clinic, said the facility in a former church rectory benefits the whole community, not just those making appointments.
“It helps the county, helps families and keeps the price down on the overall cost of healthcare by returning that person to a state of health, and the ability to hold a job, and contribute to their family and community, while keeping families together,” Larsen said.
Everybody’s insurance rates go down, according to Thomas Burd, The Clinic’s executive director.
“If somebody has a place to go early on and get fixed faster, it’s usually more cost effective to come here,” Burd said about The Clinic. “Not only are we helping the patients who don’t have insurance, we’re helping everybody who does by keeping their costs down and treating in a more appropriate setting.”
Retired full-time internist, Steven Mark, has volunteered at The Clinic one day per week for the past eight years. Mark noted that many patients would “fall through the cracks” without The Clinic.
“It’s so helpful to people who don’t have access to traditional medical care—those who never had a doctor sit and talk to them. We’re stamping out disease right at the beginning for those not taking particularly good care of themselves and going on the wrong track. We can really turn them around.”
The Clinic was founded in 2001 by family physician Lorna Stuart and the Rev. Marie Swayze. Medical services include family and internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, cardiology, urology, ophthalmology orthopedics, psychiatry and with allergies. Other clinical services include: physical therapy; psychological services; holistic health counseling; acupuncture and certified addictions counseling.
Patients from 108 countries, and 38 townships and municipalities, have walked through the front door and were served by the equivalent of 8.5 staffers per week, 14 volunteer physicians, 38 nurses, 58 clerical personnel and six other clinicians. Typically 35 to 40 patients a day, or 750—800 per month, including 50 new patients each month, see a physician in a clean and comfortable office setting.
Tuesday, Stuart glided from office to office, with breaks to fill out paperwork, as more than a dozen staffers smiled andchatted with each other and patients.
Stuart left a successful Phoenixville practice and helped start The Clinic after she noticed more and more people with no health insurance and no place to go.
“A child might lose a whole week of school because parents didn’t know where to take the kid to be treated,” Stuart said. “I suspect we have literally saved lives. No matter what insurance program is in effect, there will always, always be people falling through the gaps.”
Since the clinic does not accept health care insurance, Stuart and staff perform much less paperwork and have more time to zero in on prevention.
“To get an MRI, I don’t have to request permission (from an insurer),” Stuart said. “I get to have time with each patient. I make a real difference in everybody’s life.”
Nursing volunteer Mary O’Grady has worked at The Clinic for nearly all of the 11 years since its opening and aside from raising her children said it is the most fulfilling thing she’s done.
“I’m humbled when I come here,” O’Grady said. “I’m humbled by the people I see. When I walk in here I say I’m never going to complain again.”
The Clinic is throwing a bash to celebrate all 100,000 patient visits, Thursday, October 17, at the Columbia Station inPhoenixville. For those wishing to attend the celebration and support The Clinic, contact Karen Larsen at 610-935-5464 or e-mail email@example.com For more information, go to www.theclinicpa.org