Pierce, St. Croix counties free clinic reaches milestoneThe data is sobering. From April 2007 to the end of last year, there were 10,695 patient visits to the Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties.
By: Phil Pfuehler, New Richmond News
The data is sobering.
From April 2007 to the end of last year, there were 10,695 patient visits to the Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties.
During that time the free clinic treated 3,326 patients — 52 percent were men. Last year it treated 364 new patients.
The prime age of free clinic patients is 45-64. More than half are jobless. About a quarter work part-time and about a fifth work full-time.
While the free clinic has been able to get many of its medications for free or reduced prices, it dispensed at retail value $639,794 worth of prescriptions to its patients last year.
“The need really hasn’t changed since we began,” says Mary Conroy-Johnson, a free clinic founder and its current board of directors’ chair. “Typically, we see 25 people each evening we’re open, and we regularly have to turn people away.”
Julie Gore, clinic fund development coordinator, says the stark, visible truth starts with the line that forms outside the designated door — even on the coldest days of winter — of the River Falls Medical Clinic each Tuesday around 4 p.m.
That’s shortly before the free clinic opens at 5 p.m. Registration generally starts about a half hour earlier.
“It’s very humbling to see because these are not just poverty-stricken people who need our help,” Gore said. “They are often people who have held jobs for a long time but now are unemployed and don’t have health-care coverage. They are older, and their health is more vulnerable.”
That’s what makes the free clinic’s safety net even more essential — its patients often show up with chronic ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. They’ve delayed seeing a doctor or taking medications because they can’t afford it.
Conroy-Johnson said that, for example, a diabetic patient can need “a minimum seven or eight prescriptions and continual treatments” to regain and maintain adequate health.
“Those are our patients,” says Conroy-Johnson.
Tuesday, April 24, was the five-year anniversary of the River Falls-based free clinic.
No festivities marked the occasion.
In fact, it was just another Tuesday evening where doctors, nurses, social workers, lab technicians and a host of other volunteers tried to provide medical care for those who came without the means to pay for it.
“Our patient list grows exponentially because each week 40-50 percent of the patients we see are new,” Conroy-Johnson said.
It’s this steadily rising demand that tells Conroy-Johnson that the free clinic remains vital for hundreds of struggling people in Pierce and St. Croix counties.
“I know the problems are immensely complicated, but in my dream world I still believe that in a prosperous country like ours, with so many smart people, we should be able to set up a system that delivers affordable medical care for everyone,” Conroy-Johnson adds: “But that time hasn’t come yet. There is no magic cure for what ails the health-care industry and that’s why we have our free clinic.”
Conroy-Johnson and Gore said the free clinic is propelled by two forces — 1) A dedicated cadre of nearly 200 volunteers and 2) By an array of small and big, individual and business, donors.
“Many of our volunteers who started with us at the beginning five years ago are still with us,” Gore said. “They have taken ownership of the clinic. It’s become like the forming of a family.”
Just as with patients, free clinic volunteers come from all over — Hudson, Ellsworth, River Falls, New Richmond, Baldwin, Spring Valley, Somerset and other cities, towns and villages in the two-county area.
Some are in the medical field, but many are not. Quite a few are retired. Many will attend the free clinic’s annual volunteer recognition dinner May 9.
Over the years the free clinic has sought and received a number of private foundation and government grants. Still, Conroy-Johnson and Gore insist that it’s the everyday donors that propel the free clinic.
“Personal donations — whether its $10 or $1,000 — are the lifeblood for keeping our safety net out there and going,” Conroy-Johnson said. “We never take our donors for granted. Despite our success the past five years, please don’t forget about us.”
Said Gore: “We really appreciate and value those who are able to donate to us regularly.”
Both women said they hope the interest and zeal that preceded the opening of the free clinic five years ago won’t fade.
“There was a lot of excitement when it was new and finally got up and running, and now we are doing what we can to sustain the interest and even increase the awareness,” Gore said.
Both also admit that awareness about the free-clinic is spotty in some area communities.
To raise that awareness, Conroy-Johnson and Gore say they are available to speak and make presentations about the free clinic to clubs, groups and organizations.
Call Conroy-Johnson at 715-425-2127 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call Gore at 612-819-6451 or email her at FreeClinicPSCC@gmail.com.
Tax-deductible donations can either be mailed to the Free Clinic at P.O. Box 745/River Falls, WI 54022 or done on the Free Clinic’s website at www.freeclin icpiercestcroix.org.
“We want to keep giving good, safe, personal medical care for those who need us,” Conroy-Johnson said. “And we’re confident that with the help that’s out there, we can find the necessary resources to stay open and do just that.”