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Herndon Free Clinic Celebrates First Year

Plans in Works to Expand Services

The main hallway of Herndon Middle School is full of parents and their children, yet school doesn't start for another month. The side hall is buzzing with activity too and visitors have to speak up to be heard above the combined voices all talking at once.

It's 6 p.m., Thursday, and the volunteers at the Herndon Free Clinic Inc. are preparing to see their first client. The scene is organized chaos, as one volunteer describes, and that is actually, what it is supposed to be.

"We've done a lot with how we handle patients, the flow. It's much faster now," said Susie Swan, the clinic's volunteer coordinator and chair of the volunteer committee.

The volunteers who run the free clinic have had lots of practice, on July 25, the venture celebrated its first anniversary.

"We have seen 422 children since July 25, [2002], giving free health screenings for schools admission, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, scouts summer camps and sports physicals for area high-school students," wrote Jeanie Schmidt, the clinic's founder, in an e-mail.

In addition, the clinic has grown from two doctors to four, has created a board of directors, and gets help from pediatric residents and student nurses from local hospitals and training programs.

"It's been a learning year," Swan said.

SO FAR, the clinic can only provide screenings for children, but the hope is to become a full-service facility, complete with a pharmacy.

During its first year, the clinic raised approximately $25,000, which it used for equipment and supplies to provide the screenings and to create a reserve for the future expansion of services.

"We sometimes get funding from community groups that specializes in this type of need and we need a wide range of grants," said Laurie Guzman, treasurer of the clinic. "Because we don't pay volunteers, whose wages would be significant in the medical field, our actual costs are low."

Guzman estimates the clinic spends about $12 per child. However, when in-kind services such as rent, the volunteer professionals and community workers, and translators are factored in, the cost is around $130 per child, if visiting a private practice.

"We need to earmark some of our funds for a pharmacy when we go full service," Guzman said. "When we're full service we'll provide chronic and acute care for children and adults. We would also need a medical director. We're looking for that person and hopefully he or she will be a volunteer."

In order to becomes a full-service clinic — emergency care would still not be available — the clinic would need an estimated annual budget of at least $100,000, with the pharmacy costing at least $70,000. Currently, the clinic is not licensed to provide or store prescription drugs.

"The Arlington Free Clinic, I think it was, started out at Thomas Jefferson. They would pack up, set up, and pack up again each night," Guzman said. "We're lucky, we have our gurneys set up here because we're using the school health clinic and I think the school appreciates having the extra places for the children."

The school uses the free clinic's gurneys during the day and the clinic uses the school's space twice a week during the school year and once a week in July and August.

PATIENTS ARE SCREENED by simply calling or stopping by the Neighborhood Resource Center's main desk, according to Schmidt. To be eligible for service, a person must be a Fairfax County resident; have no health insurance, Medicaid or other health program for the child; and have income limits based on the size of the family, typically earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Right now, the clinic is open Thursday evenings and sees clients by appointment only. Parents must accompany their children on their visit.

"Basically, once a physician sees the child, if the child needs dental care, we can send the child to the county. We have an eye doctor for an eye referral," said Judy Beaupre, a registered nurse and clinic volunteer. "We can provide information for the school nurses if the child is asthmatic or if the child needs follow up care. We can also send them to the county health clinics if the child needs injections or blood work."

In addition, Beaupre said the volunteers provide the parents with general information about services available throughout the county ranging from the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) nutrition program to immigration. Through the clinic, a child can receive free eyeglasses from the Lions Clubs, free and reduced-rate health insurance through screenings by the Inova Partnership for Healthier Kids and free clothing and household items from The Closet in Herndon.

The clinic also provides books, school supplies, toys and toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children.

"Every child leaves with an armful of goodies," Schmidt wrote. "And we thank all who have generously donated their time, talents and treasures to our clinic over the past year. It has been wonderful."