Surrounded by dozens of neatly-stacked boxes and containers marked to show that they contain items like toothpaste, latex gloves and thermometer covers, Meagan Ulrich, executive director of the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic sits down and rests her feet. She sighs as she enjoys a break in the first busy hours of a morning of moving into the clinic's first permanent location in an office complex in Herndon.
"We just can't wait to get everything up in running," Ulrich said, looking around at the medium-sized office, custom built over the course of the last several months to house the clinic. "Just a few months ago, when we were at the neighborhood resource center, we kept everything in a closet and we had to roll it out on the weekends."
"Now it will be so nice for us to have a real office for people to go."
On March 7, the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic, formerly known as the Herndon Free Clinic, will officially open the doors to its first permanent location. It is a major step for the local non-profit that started in 2002 as a medical service that provided local children with school-mandated physical examinations and vaccinations, as it works to treat more patients, including adults, in the coming years.
Once open, the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic — named after its founder and former Herndon resident — will be the only permanent regular free clinic in Fairfax County, and will work to exclusively serve people with Herndon, Reston and Centreville mailing addresses. At first, the non-profit is slated to provide free health clinics on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings, focusing on student physical examinations and adults with hypertension and diabetes.
This year, the clinic is expected to treat 400 area children and 150 adults, according to Ulrich. The idea is to eventually get more resources to provide a full-time, staffed health clinic for uninsured residents, she added.
"It's a dream realized," said Herndon Council Member Harlon Reece, who has served on the board of directors for the clinic for about four years. "This means we can increase our hours, serve more people and in time increase the services we provide."
WHILE THE CLINIC has been present in Herndon since 2002, first operating at the Herndon Middle School and then, in 2005, every few weeks in the Neighborhood Resource Center, only recently have its plans to establish a permanent medical office been realized. It has been renamed from the Herndon Free Clinic to the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic to demonstrate that its services are available in not just Herndon, but Centreville and Reston as well, Ulrich said.
With an approximate $150,000 annual operating budget for this year, the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic is hardly awash in money, said Ulrich. It has only been through large financial donations made from local faith-based groups and the donation of products ranging from telecommunications services to commercial flooring to medical supplies that the clinic has been able to afford and stock a permanent home.
"The great thing about this area is that the businesses and community organizations show a lot of support for these types of projects," Ulrich said. "I really think optimistically when I'm here that there's people out there willing to lend money and support to us so that we can expand our services."
Those financial commitments already made have been matched as well by about the 150 volunteers who are expected to participate in one way or another at the clinic, as doctors, nurses, administrative assistants and translators, according to Tricia Mussante, volunteers coordinator for the clinic.
"This whole program was started solely with volunteer services, they've been involved since the beginning," Mussante said. "Like many non-profits, without our volunteers, we couldn't be here … and that is so very true in our case."
And the volunteers, particularly those in the medical field, have found a particular niche among the clinic, she added.
"We like to think that we're tapping into the real reason that many doctors went into healthcare in the first place, and that is to help people," Mussante said. "I think that this fills that desire for them in a particular way and the people are always so grateful."
WHILE THE JEANIE Schmidt Free Clinic provides health screenings, it also uses volunteers to solicit local doctors and pharmaceutical companies to supply any advanced follow-up treatment and medication.
"The children who come up through the system, the adults with hypertension, we find all sorts of different issues and we can't just let those problems go," Ulrich said. "So after we diagnose those problems we work with them to find a permanent medical home, particularly in the case of the children."
"You can't just give someone a finger prick and say, 'oh, you have high blood sugar, you might have diabetes,' and that's just it."
The services of the clinic provide benefits to far more people than simply the uninsured patients that it is able to treat every year, she added.
"This is a public health and a cost-saving venture," said Ulrich. "We are saving the taxpayers money because in the end they're not having to pay the bills for these people who come into the emergency room with no insurance … which just raises health costs for everyone."
AND WITH THE COSTS of health care, including some medications costing several hundred dollars a bottle, the need is even greater for the community, Ulrich said.
While the establishment of a permanent clinic is an excellent and necessary first step, to tackle the health problems of the uninsured in this region, the organization will have to continue to grow and see more donations and volunteers, according to Ulrich.
"Right now we're so far from being able to meet the demands of the people and the children in the area," she said, "and it will be several years until we can get there."
For now, the clinic will continue to focus on helping uninsured residents and students to the best of its ability as it works on attempting to grow to include more services and patients in need of medical attention, Ulrich said.
The presence of the clinic in Herndon is just one more testament to the kind of people that live and work in the area, according to Reece.
"I think it demonstrates that Herndon is a caring community with people who care about each other," he said. "I think there's a lot of people out there interested in giving each other a hand when we need it.