Free clinics seeing influx of patients, tighter resources

Free clinics in Tupelo and Oxford are seeing increased demand for services even as the economy has hit their funding sources.
“We’re having to watch every penny,” said Marlene Bishop, executive director of Oxford Medical Ministries. The two-year-old organization has added 85 new patients so far this year.
Both the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic in Tupelo and Oxford Medical Ministries in Oxford focus on helping working adults who can’t afford health insurance, a primary focus of the reform proposals now being debated in Congress.
The clinics are managed by small paid staffs; medical care is delivered by volunteer physicians, nurses and pharmacists.
In the first nine months of the current fiscal year, the Good Samaritan Free Clinic in Tupelo has nearly matched what it did in the previous fiscal year.
In 2007-2008, the clinic had 2,533 patient visits and filled 9,777 prescriptions, said Executive Director Cindy Sparks. Through the end of June, the clinic has 2,500 patient visits and filled 8,640 prescriptions for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
“We added 97 new patients in the last quarter,” Sparks said. “It’s a pretty big growth. We usually average about 60.”
All but 14 percent of those folks were employed.
“Some were people who had been laid off,” Sparks said. “We give them six months … they have to be actively seeking work.”
Fewer rules
Oxford Medical Ministries relaxed its requirements to help existing patients who have lost jobs. New patients are required to be employed.
“If they had been laid off, we’re allowing those patients six months to find another job,” Bishop said.
Oxford Medical Ministries is funded through private donations, and they’ve seen some regular donors – both individuals and institutions – have to decrease their support.
“We’re seeing more patients with less funding,” Bishop said. The clinic’s board has been watching the finances and the clinic’s long-term commitments closely.
At the Tupelo free clinic, Sparks said donations from individuals have remained steady and the clinic’s annual charity roast beat expectations, but that the clinic has seen a drop in grant funding.
“We are continually looking for new opportunities,” Sparks said. “But many grants don’t cover operating expenses.”
Both free clinics are still taking new patients, but increasing volume of patients and shrinking resources are very worrisome.
“Right now it’s a balancing act,” Sparks said. “We have to be able to take care of the patients we have.”

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal