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Free Clinic Aims to Provide for Uninsured

Schmidt working toward free clinic.

Herndon resident Jeanie Schmidt does not believe in resting on her laurels.

Schmidt, a registered nurse since 1968 and current employee of The Closet, received praise from both the Herndon Police Department and the Herndon Town Council last Tuesday, Jan. 15 in the form of a presentation and a Certificate of Responsible Citizenship.

Schmidt was presented with the certificate for the efforts she undertook to provide the HPD with information it could use to give extra assistance to those residents in need via a brochure she wrote in English and Spanish.

"The mission was to increase awareness of existing community programs for the poor," said Schmidt. The brochure told how people in need could access food, clothing, furniture, financial aid and medical care.

"Sometime around last January or February she came to me to explain about her brochure. I was so impressed by her work — she spoke to the roll calls and the officers carry the pamphlets," said HPD Chief Toussaint Summers, Jr.

"This was done on her own time, with her own money and effort," said 15-year HPD veteran Sgt. Phil Farley during the presentation for Schmidt on Jan. 15. "She attended each roll call — at 6 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. — a real challenge. All the officers carry the handout. It's a useful service and a benefit to the town."

The brochure provides a point of contact for a needy person or family regarding a given service. "It's good to be armed with the knowledge when encountering a needy family," said Farley.

<mh>Forging Ahead

<bt>While the HPD and the Town Council look back upon Schmidt's accomplishments, she continues to forge ahead in the hopes of achieving her goal — a free clinic in the Herndon area.

"I went to the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke in July because they're established — some come and go — it's been around since 1974. They gave us a tour — my son and I. It was a good experience and made me realize I really want to do this more than ever. They have a great set up. They're really meeting the needs of the poor community" — a community that prioritizes its money for rent, car repair and putting food on the table — "not preventive health care," said Schmidt.

Schmidt said the best piece of advice she got while in Roanoke was to "get community support."

That she did during a work session of the Town Council late last year as then-mayor, now Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-86th) and the members of Town Council offered support.

"There is a need — absolutely — based upon the number of low income families in the area and the high number of uninsured," said Rust during that work session.

"Although the town has neither the charter or the money to support a free clinic, I support the concept," said Councilman William "Bill" Tirrell, Sr. "There is a need for this. If space is available in the NRC [Neighborhood Resource Center] and time is available, that's fine. The town should be an encouraging cheerleader, but financially should stay at arms length."

"The county and/or state has the charter to provide these kinds of services. The value is not in question — just a question of Ms. Schmidt finding the right funding. Support from the Town conceptually should help her gain real support," said Tirrell.

<mh>Not Reaching Enough

<bt>Fairfax County already provides such services, pointed out Schmidt, it's just not reaching enough people, she said, thus the point of her brochure — to inform the public as to the services available.

Fairfax County has three clinics for the uninsured — North County in Reston, South County in Mount Vernon and Bailey's in Falls Church. The county estimates, based upon 2000 census figures, that 8.2 percent of its residents lack health insurance, said Anne Cahill, county demographer with the Department of Human Services. The percent of uninsured is based upon a population figure of 964,712. Children under 18-years-old comprise more than 20 percent of those without health insurance.

"Absolutely, there is a need," said Farley. "There is a large immigrant community, people not wanting to be transported to a hospital, or can't afford it. For day-to-day medical services, this would be a great benefit to the community — for kids to get shots, general check-ups."

A strong source of information for people to learn what the county offers is via the Web site, said Schmidt. "But how many of the poor have Internet capability? That costs money every month. The county has wonderful programs — just not servicing as many people as needed," she said.

Schmidt and a team of volunteers — doctors, nurses and translators who wished to remain anonymous — at least for the time being, have conducted two clinics of their own. One was held last August and the second, less than two weeks ago on Jan. 12 at the Neighborhood Resource Center.

"We did free physicals to enable children to enter into school quickly so their parents can get jobs and be productive members of society," said Schmidt. "Many of these kids qualify for free lunch and dental care at the health department."

Schmidt's plan is to line up a pool of volunteers and find a site in order to hold a free clinic one night a week open to anyone without health insurance. "A clinic that is open one night a week for three hours is not going to meet the needs of all the people. This will not be an emergency clinic, but for check-ups, health care and preventive care — to alert people before they have full blown cancer," she said as an example. "We're trying to make a healthy population."

Schmidt will be holding a community meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Neighborhood Resource Center located at 1086 Elden Street, Herndon for people interested in helping start a free clinic.