Good medicine: The Rutland Free Clinic

Clinic Director Karen Glade, RN, with Dr. Paul Davoren.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 3/10/11] 

According to the 2009 Vermont Household Health Insurance Survey, 5,370 Rutland County residents are without health insurance. When these individuals are in need of noncritical medical assistance, a trip to the emergency room can often result in long waits and a hefty bill.

In Rutland, however, there is another option. Since 1996, the Rutland Free Clinic, located at 145 State St., has provided free and low-cost services for patients in need.

With a volunteer staff of doctors and nurses numbering more than a dozen, as well as one-and-a-half paid employees, the clinic offers free services for everything from writing basic prescriptions (procured at reduced costs via partnerships with pharmacies) to utilizing Rutland Regional Medical Center resources for x-rays and lab work.

Specialists, including nutritionists, cardiologists, surgeons, neurologists, dentists and gynecologists, also offer care to patients for free.

According to the clinic policy, patients who qualify for its services are “uninsured adults whose income is not more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.”

Care is also offered to those who are underinsured; for example, those “having catastrophic health insurance with at least an annual $10,000-plus deductible.”

While a certain stigma may be associated with free clinics in general, clinic volunteer Dr. Marie Pavini explained that clinics like Rutland’s serve a broad and often diverse sampling of the local population.

“These are people in our community who come here,” Pavini said, adding that people who seek care at the clinic are not limited to those living below the poverty line without insurance, but also those who are temporarily unemployed, seasonal workers without coverage and those who are employed but underinsured.

Even as the recent federal health care reform legislation works to provide insurance for more Americans, Pavini is quick to note that there is a misconception that everyone will be covered.

“It still has cracks,” she said of the current efforts to reform the system. “There will always be a co-pay that someone can’t afford. Free care is always needed.”

Providing free care, however, is no simple task. It takes the commitment and dedication of the clinic’s small corps of volunteers as well as its staff, like clinic executive director and registered nurse Karen Glade, whom Pavini calls “the angel of the clinic.”

Through the work of Glade, Pavini and other volunteers, the clinic has succeeded at providing accessible, efficient and reliable care to those who need it.

However, they are always looking for more help. Pavini said recruiting volunteers is done by word of mouth. There are no incentives for doctors and nurses to volunteer their time.

According to Pavini — who herself has been a volunteer at the clinic for five years — those who volunteer really believe in what the clinic does.

“We offer ser vices to make people in our community feel better,” she said. “That’s a no-brainer.”

Indeed, beyond the good achieved by caring for patients in need, there is a very tangible benefit to having an effective free clinic. The average emergency room visit costs $700 — costs that are not recouped if a patient is unable to foot bill. Conversely, the average cost per patient at the clinic is $83.

Pavini said that the Rutland clinic has been working closely with RRMC’s Emergency Department to increase the number of patients that are diverted to the clinic, an outcome that is mutually beneficial to both patients and the hospital.

Indeed, actually getting patients to the clinic can be a challenge. Some are too proud to seek care from a clinic. Others are simply unaware that the clinic exists. Pavini and other volunteers are always looking for more ways to get the word out.

Despite its success, the clinic still has faces struggles that are not uncommon to other nonprofit organizations. Funding is, of course, chief among them.

To that end, the clinic has been exploring more and new fundraising opportunities such as its upcoming St. Paddy’s Day Spring Fling Dance at The Palms Restaurant on March 19.

“We usually do very low-key fundraising,” Pavini said, but explained that the recent creation of a fundraising committee for the clinic has them developing more events targeted at different segments of the community.

“We hope it will be well attended,” Pavini said of the March 19 benefit, which will feature appetizers, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle and music by DJ Brett Mhyre.

Looking toward the clinic’s future, Pavini is hopeful that it will continue to expand on the services it provides, including adding preventative programs addressing diet, exercise and smoking cessation, and creating a social support group that would connect members of the clinic with each other to discuss needs and solutions — all the while providing accessible and reliable care to all who require it.

Tickets for the Rutland Free Clinic’s St. Paddy’s Day Spring Fling Dance are $15 each or $25 per couple, and can be purchased at the door or in advance at The Palms or by calling the clinic at 775-1360.

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