Free Clinic expands services with grant

In the past 17 years, the Free Clinic of SW Washington has grown from a tiny free clinic operating out of borrowed space one night a week into the largest free clinic in the Pacific Northwest that serves as a model for smaller clinics in the region.

The clinic provides free medical care, immunizations, medication, vision exams, dental care and preventative health screenings with the support of 500 volunteers and gifts from local businesses and organizations.

Most recently, the Regence Community Health Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation gave the clinic $50,000 to increase and enhance its services to children. Last year alone, more than 3,500 were treated by clinic volunteers.

Now, the clinic is the midst of hiring an executive director, a position that has been vacant for the past five months, and staff is working to introduce Project Access to patients.

The clinic employs seven staff members and two Americorps volunteers.

Started in Asheville, N.C., Project Access works to coordinate specialty care for those without insurance and has been in the planning stages for the past two-and-a-half years. Development Director Shirley Gross expects it to be launched in four counties in the Vancouver-Portland metro area in February.

The state has pledged $75,000 split between two years to the program, Clark County Public Health pledged $20,000, PacificSource Health Plans pledged $25,000 split between two years and Legacy Health System pledged $10,000 to each of the four local programs.

“It’s not a solution to the health care problem by any means,” Gross said. “It’s a solution until something else gets figured out.”

The clinic was founded in 1990 by a retired physician and a retired pastor who met through Rotary.

“It really is a grassroots organization,” Gross said. “This is the medical community wanting to solve the problem with back-to-basics medicine.”

The clinic doesn’t have the capacity to treat much more than standard coughs, colds, sniffles and head lice, but often serious health conditions like cancer and heart issues present themselves during exams.

The clinic always needs more volunteers, but those from the dental community are especially needed.

The 20-member board of directors wants to be part of the solution through advocacy and providing information to the legislature about what the clinic sees, Gross said. For instance, volunteers treat a higher number of employed people than ever before.

The board is made up of representatives from local medical and dental facilities, physicians and businesses, including attorney Karey Schoenfeld of Schoenfeld & Ferguson, Ann Wheelock of Columbia United Providers, Ron Bertolucci of First Independent Bank, Bruce Paris of Bank of Clark County, Jan Redding of the Vancouver School District Foundation and Bill Renfroe of Kennedy Jenks Consultants in Portland.

Gross said she has been blown away by the generosity of the local business community.

“This community has grown rapidly, but it is still such a small, interwoven community,” Gross said. “That has been important for the clinic. But this is a hard time. Many businesses are having to cut back their own insurance.”

The Free Clinic of SW Washington
Nonprofit medical, dental and vision clinic
4100 Plomondon St., Vancouver

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