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Free Clinic Seeks Home

Clinic hopes to become full-service when it finds permanent home.

Only a few months after first opening its doors in July, the Herndon Free Clinic, a nonprofit community organization, held an Open House on Thursday evening at its temporary home at Herndon Middle School to raise funds and awareness for the county's only privately-funded free clinic.

The clinic, which is currently looking for a permanent home and a medical director, is committed, said Jeanie Schmidt, its founder and president, to providing access to quality health care, including school-admission physicals, sports physicals and medical referrals to uninsured low-income residents in the Herndon-area. It is the first privately-funded free clinic of its kind in Fairfax County.

"I am overwhelmed, this is all going much faster than I ever thought it would and that is because of the strong community support," Schmidt said. "They told me it would take three years, instead our group first met in January and we saw our first patients in July."

Schmidt organized the open house in order to reach out to a larger segment of the Herndon community for support for her infant clinic. "If we are to move forward with everything we want to do," Schmidt said, "we must have a free-standing facility to call our own if we are to become a full-service clinic."

The clinic, operating on an appointment-only schedule, is open on Thursday evenings. In its first eight clinic sessions, said Schmidt, they gave 165 school physicals to students whose families have no health insurance and whose income falls below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level guidelines.

<b>AT THE OPEN HOUSE</b>, Herndon Mayor Richard Thoesen praised Schmidt, and her team of more than 100 volunteers, for their "grassroots effort" to bring quality health care and education to the town's poorest citizens.

Mark Cruise, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Free Clinics, said the work that Schmidt and others were doing on behalf of the Herndon Free Clinic was impressive. "Thanks for caring enough about your neighbors in need to do something," Cruise said, stressing the importance of developing community partnerships. "Every time a door to a new free clinic opens, miracles happen. You are the safety net below the safety net for tens of thousands of Virginians."

Cruise applauded the Herndon Free Clinic for meeting a previously unmet community need — school physicals. Though its the first one of its kind in the county, the Herndon clinic is one of 48 free clinics in Virginia, which last year, provided nearly $41 million in health care costs to needy patients, Cruise said. "We stand ready to assist you, but looking around, I don't think you need much help," Cruise told Schmidt.

Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville), was, thanks to persistent prodding by Schmidt, one of the clinic's first supporters and he was on hand Thursday to help further the clinic's mission. Mendelsohn told the audience how Schmidt sold him on the free-clinic concept. "It never hit me until Jeanie looked at me one night and said, 'Our education is free but the physical to go to school isn't,'" the supervisor said. "That's when the light went on."

Like her Republican colleague, state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), commended Schmidt for her dogged work to bring a free clinic to Herndon. "She ID'd a need and got in there and solved it," Howell said. "It showed by what kind of lady she was and what kind of community Herndon was."