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Free Clinic Expands Patient-Reach

Volunteer-run clinic expands clientele to identify and assist adults with high blood pressure.

Known primarily for its service to low-income children, the Herndon Free Clinic expanded its clientele in March to assist adults with high blood pressure in the community.

Although initially clinic volunteers did not publicly announce the expansion, Jeanie Schmidt, founder Herndon Free Clinic, said they are now encouraging qualified residents to make an appointment or come to a screening.

"Twenty-five percent of people over 35 years have high blood pressure and don't know it," said the registered nurse. "There are no symptoms and because more people are obese, don't exercise, consume alcohol and smoke, we're seeing an increase in people's blood pressure levels."

To make residents aware of high blood pressure, or hypertension, Schmidt said the clinic set a goal to enroll adult patients into a program.

"You are supposed to take a person's blood pressure three times on three different days before admitting them to the clinic," she said. "But if it's high the second time we see them we enroll them."

The Herndon Free Clinic, is a nonprofit, community-based organization of volunteer health-care professionals and community volunteers, committed to providing access to quality health services to uninsured low-income residents, said Schmidt.

As of May 23 the clinic has screened more than 200 people and found almost 50 people with high blood pressure.

Schmidt said the only way people can enroll in the adult program is through blood pressure screenings that will be held at the Neighborhood Resource Center and other locations in the community.

The next screening is scheduled for Saturday July 9, from 8 to 10:30 a.m., at the Floris United Methodist Church.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and it contributes to the hardening of the arteries, according to WebMD.

Although the exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown, several factors and conditions can play a role in its development. These include genetics, obesity, lack of physical activity, too much salt in the diet, too much alcohol consumption ā€” more than one to two drinks per day, stress and old age, according to WebMD.

Schmidt also said because there are no symptoms to identify high blood pressure, people need to be aware of other risk factors. People more likely to develop high blood pressure are those who have a history of it in the family, African-Americans, women who are pregnant, women on birth control, people over 35 years and people who are overweight, who are not physically active or who smoke.

"Hypertension can come when people are in their 20s or 30s," said Schmidt. "You can have it for many years and not know it."

Health problems associated with hypertension include stroke, heart failure, heart attack, kidney failure and vision problems, according to WebMD.

Treatment options typically require making lifestyle changes and drug therapy. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, stopping smoking, eating healthy and getting enough aerobic exercise.

Schmidt said often people don't go to the doctor when they feel healthy, then before they know it they "get married, have kids and the kids go to the doctor" but they do not make the time for themselves to see a doctor.

She said the clinic began the hypertension screenings to address this issue.

ONCE ADMITTED TO the hypertensive clinic, Schmidt said adult patients will also be screened for diabetes or lipid disorders, both associated with high blood pressure. They will also receive counseling for lifestyle changes and additional resources through the clinic's partnership with the Fairfax County-run clinic system.

Schmidt said health and local organizations already donating services and funding will help with the adult hypertensive clinic.

In addition she said she will apply in the fall for membership to the Virginia Association of Free Clinics. If accepted it will make the clinic eligible for yearly support from Trigon Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

"So many people, because of their income level, do not get screened," she said, explaining the clinic will only see patients who meet the clinic's income criteria.

In addition to having high blood pressure, patients need to have proper identification, proof of residence in northwestern Fairfax County and no health insurance or other health problems. Patients must also show that their income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines based on family size, said Schmidt.

Harlon Reece, president Herndon Free Clinic, said contrary to selected residents' misguided knowledge of the clientele, the clinic is open to any social demographic that meets the specified income and health-care qualifications.

IN FAIRFAX COUNTY 14,000 of the 45,000 uninsured low-income adult residents are being served by free clinics, said Schmidt.

She added because there is no expected expansion of services in the future, Herndon Free Clinic volunteers wanted to do more for residents.

"We may even decide to become more aggressive in the future," said Reece. "But our main focus at first is to do physicals for children because they need to be in school."

Currently the adult hypertension clinic is set to alternate with the children's clinic, which runs two to three times a month. The summer will see more adult clinics, but by August and September the focus will be on children.

"If we had a dedicated site for the adult clinic we'd hold it weekly," she said about location availability. "If anyone has a storefront, warehouse that's on a bus line or has parking, and they are willing to donate it part time, we would greatly appreciate it."

Currently the Free Clinic is run out of Herndon Middle School's nurse clinic, after school hours.

"We would like to be a weekly clinic because we are seeing parents who are sick and are needing medicine but we are not set up to help them," she said. "We're trying to juggle two very different clinics right now."

Schmidt said patients worried about high blood pressure should get it checked every six months to a year. She added that can be done for free on machines at the grocery store or by Fire and Rescue personnel at a station house. If someone learns they have high blood pressure, Schmidt said they should call the clinic, leave a message and a volunteer would call them back to set up an appointment.

"Some day we may phase in more services, but right now we can't see the aches and pains," she said. "By treating high blood pressure we're trying to keep people out of the ER."