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Push started to bring free health clinic
Committee, statewide program set sights on 2016 opening
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A local committee is working to establish a free health clinic in Effingham County.

The group, comprised of representatives from health and human service organizations, began meeting late last year. Their effort has been joined by the Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program, which partners with other free clinics across the state.

The Effingham clinic would serve patients who have a family income at 200 percent or below of federal poverty guidelines and have no insurance for the reason they’re seeking care, according to the GVHCP’s proposal. All patient visits would be free of charge.

“There is a need in the community for affordable health care, and, of course, access to that health care,” said clinic action committee member Bonnie Dixon, the United Way’s Effingham area director.

The committee is looking for a coordinator to oversee the Effingham clinic. An ideal fit could be a retired doctor or nurse, or a teacher in the medical field, Dixon said.

The coordinator would be a volunteer, though it could eventually become a paid position through grants or other funding sources, according to Dixon. The clinic’s doctors and nurses also would be volunteers.

“It’s important for the coordinator to have the medical contacts to be able to find people who would volunteer their time in the clinic,” said committee member David Grandgeorge, the pastor of Guyton Christian Church.

Once the coordinator is on board, the next steps will be to determine exactly what services the clinic will provide and whether it will be housed at a fixed location or be a mobile clinic that travels to different places in the county. The committee plans to look at free clinics that have been successful in other communities, to determine which model would work best in Effingham.

The Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program will provide insurance for the clinic’s volunteer staff, according to Grandgeorge. The clinic also will need donations of medical equipment and supplies.

The clinic’s leaders will pursue grants as one avenue to support its free services, though Effingham’s population growth has made the county ineligible for grants designated for rural areas.

“We can’t get rural grants anymore because we’re too big,” said Cindy Grovenstein, nurse manager for the Effingham County Health Department.

To assess the need for a free health clinic in Effingham, the committee circulated a questionnaire throughout the county. Of the 111 completed surveys, 86 people said they have a primary care doctor and 25 responded they don’t.

“In their comments about medical was that they had a medical doctor or they knew where they could go to receive medical care, but they couldn’t afford it,” Dixon said. “It captures and confirms what we’re hearing from our clients that we deal with here (at the United Way Effingham Service Center).”

With all the objectives that must be met, the clinic is at least a year away from opening, according to the committee. However, Grandgeorge pointed to Family Promise, an organization that helps the homeless, as an example that it can be done.

The Effingham chapter of Family Promise formed in early 2013. Following a year-and-a-half of raising money and securing other resources, Family Promise began assisting homeless families in Effingham in June of last year.

“Family Promise had a model — a very good model,” Grandgeorge said. “There was a need, an idea, and we had Family Promise up and running in our community in an amazingly short period of time.”

How to get involved
For more information about establishing a free health care clinic in Effingham, or to serve on its action committee, call Bonnie Dixon at the United Way Effingham Service Center at 826-5300, extension 102.