More than 42 million Americans do not have health insurance - about 15 percent of the general population. Here in Alexandria, the uninsured often go without medical service for extended periods of time - neglecting health issues that will later compound medical problems that could have been easily solved.
That's where the Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services comes in.
The nonprofit organization was established in 1997 to manage and support the Arlandria Health Center, which offers child exams, pediatric illness care, parenting education, gynecological care, family planning and assistance with enrollment in public health insurance.
"We are making major changes for the uninsured in this community," said Mayor Bill Euille at the organization's annual Cinco de Mayo party last week. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done."
IN 2003, U.S. Rep. James Moran brought the organization a three-year $1.85 million grant, and now the clinic plans to expand. It will keep its offices in the Presidential Gardens Apartments and open a new building in a leased space on Glebe Road. The landlords of the rental space, Andree and Stanley Lecureux, own a nearby French restaurant. The five-year lease they signed with Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services in January will allow the organization to open a new health center on Glebe Road and increase the number of patients its doctors and nurses can see.
"We're extremely happy to have found a landlord who has been very helpful to us," said Board Chairman Steve Hart. "We're about to start the approval process with the city."
When the nonprofit organization announced that it would be leasing its new space instead of purchasing it, some wondered about why the federal grant hadn't been used to purchase space for the clinic.
"When I put the earmark in for the health center, I had hoped that they would be able to buy a space," said Moran. "But I'm not really concerned about whether they buy or rent. The important thing is that uninsured people get the medical care that they need."
The money Moran secured is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was created in 1966 to help low-income families buy homes and receive aid. According to the department, the grant should be used "for facilities needs."
"Leasing this space is providing the facilities needs of our organization," said Hart. "We are totally cramped where we are now, and expanding to our new location on Glebe Road is going to help us achieve our mission."
THE CLINIC'S ORIGINAL space in the Presidential Gardens Apartments allows the organization to provide health services to Arlandria residents. Most of the apartment complex's residents are black or Latino, and about 80 percent of the Latino immigrants in Arlandria are uninsured. The clinic is staffed by 17 health-care workers, including a medical director, two family nurse practitioners, two registered nurses, three nursing assistance and a part-time pediatrician.
"A lot of parents work long hours -- and many of those are single parents," said Dr. Roger Chinery, who is the medical director at the Arlandria Health Center. "They wonder where their next meal is going to come from -- and this clinic is important because it allows health concerns to be addressed that might otherwise go unchecked."
The clinic recorded 10,628 health-care visits in 2004. According Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, 94 percent of individuals served by the clinic are below the federal poverty standard and 79 percent are uninsured.
"For most community health centers in the nation, about 35 percent of the patients are uninsured. In our clinic, about 80 percent are uninsured," said Nyrma Hernandez, director of development for Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services. "This tells you that there is a greater demand in our community for the kind of community service that we provide at the Arlandria Health Center."
Fundraising efforts such as last week's Cinco de Mayo celebration are crucial to bankrolling the health services that the clinic provides.
"We have a very generous community," said Hernandez. "And we have the support of the city of Alexandria."
In fiscal year 2005, the city allocated $47,000 to the program. City Council members Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg showed their support for the clinic by making an appearance at the Cinco de Mayo event, which raised approximately $70,000 for the program.