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Free clinic role changing
Physician care moving; other services remain
Thursday, July 5, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
The Free Medical Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County plans to stop providing primary physician (generalist) care services.
Rita Winbush, the on-site director of the free clinic, said that while primary physician services are being phased out, the clinic’s other services will continue.
The free clinic has “transitioned,” or moved, at least 80 to 85 percent of its patients who come in to see a primary care doctor to other medical providers in recent months, and if all goes well, the remaining 15-20 percent will be transitioned by the end of July, Winbush said.
Dr. Charles Marshall said for the last four years he has been the only primary care doctor who has been seeing patients at the free clinic on a steady basis. He said he will turn 85 at the end of July and is stepping down. He is a retired obstetrician/gynecologist.
“We are doing all we can so people are connected” to other doctors before he steps down, he said.
According to Winbush and Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, no other volunteer doctor(s) are available to succeed Marshall. The free clinic operates under the umbrella of the coalition, Winbush said.
Jackman said Martinsville-Henry County has had a shortage of primary care providers (doctors) for years. The free clinic relies on primary care physicians who volunteer to work at the clinic, but those physicians in the area are so busy with their own patients they don’t have time to volunteer, she said.
Jackman said many doctors have volunteered at the clinic over the years. Winbush added that local doctors are continuing to help the clinic in various ways, for instance, with sample medicines.
“It’s not about lack of support from the (medical) community,” Winbush said.
Winbush also said it’s “almost redundant” for the free clinic to offer primary care doctor services when there are two federally qualified community health centers locally: Bassett Family Practice and Piedmont Access to Health Services, or PATHS. Jackman made similar comments.
Bassett Family Practice and PATHS get federal funds that allow them to charge patients on a sliding scale based on their incomes, according to Winbush, Jackman and online information.
Winbush said having two federally qualified community health centers locally is “huge” for a small area. “It’s almost redundant to have a free clinic when you have two models right here which are the best models for our patients,” Winbush said.
She said a qualifying patient can see a doctor at Bassett Family Practice for as little as $15.
Officials have said the free clinic was not intended to be a person’s permanent primary source of health care, but rather a temporary source until the patient is able to afford care from a traditional clinic.
The free clinic will continue to provide services including medication assistance, referrals to specialists, other types of health care coordination, an eye clinic and mammograms, according to Winbush and Jackman. Some of the services are available to anyone in the community who qualifies, not just free clinic patients, Winbush said.
The free clinic, at 315 Hospital Drive, provided direct physician care to 265 patients from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011, Winbush said. She said she did not have an estimate of the number of patients currently.
The clinic sees patients without medical insurance who are below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
Jackman said the free clinic has a budget of about $125,000, with a large part coming from The Harvest Foundation and other funding from donations (which have declined) and the state, as well as volunteer help.
The free clinic has a staff of one full-time and two part-time people, Winbush said.
Jackman said Bassett Family Practice currently sees more than 4,000 patients a year. Bassett Family Practice also operates under the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness.