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Free Clinic Would See Clients By Appointment, After Hours

FARMVILLE – The Heart of Virginia Free Clinic would treat patients through scheduled appointments that would not begin until after 5 p.m., the organization's president, Rev. Sylvia Meadows, told Farmville's Town Council during its April 22 meeting.

The free clinic has been offered space at the corner of Third and Main Streets formerly occupied by the Daily Grind and council members, while previously endorsing the concept of a free clinic, had raised questions about whether that downtown location was optimal.

Town officials also said downtown merchants were concerned about parking and traffic generated by the clinic, which has not decided whether to accept the offered use of the downtown location.

Those issues and questions were directly addressed and answered by Rev. Meadows during the public participation portion of council's rescheduled April meeting.

Wherever the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic is located, Rev. Meadows said, it will be “a professional medical building. It will be like a typical office, doctor's office…”

There would be no lines of people on the sidewalk, nor patients competing for parking spaces during the normal business day, Rev. Meadows said, because the free clinic would be depending upon professional medical volunteers who would treat patients after their own business hours.

During the normal business day, someone would staff the office to schedule appointments, she told Town Council, and conduct some eligibility screening.

“All of the clients that will be seen in the free clinic will be scheduled for appointments. There will not be long lines of people waiting for hours,” Rev. Meadows said.

“There will be eligibility screening for each person or family that is served by the free clinic. Some of the eligibility screening will occur during the daytime but much of it will be in the evening.

“And medical appointments for the clinic itself will all be after 5 p.m. at night because we are being served by volunteers-volunteer doctors, volunteer nurses, nurse practitioners-so it will not even be during the daytime that the clinic will initially see folks,” she told town officials.

The free clinic would provide medical care to those ages 18 to 64, working or between jobs, who don't have medical insurance. It would not serve those who are on Medicaid or Medicare, offer OB services, nor offer emergency room services, or treat children.

As for parking, Rev. Meadows observed “it seems to me that whatever is in that building will have the same type of parking issues that any business would.”

But she added that when the Daily Grind space was first offered to the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic “my first question to the board (of directors) was 'How are we going to handle parking?' So I share that mindset with you. That was an initial concern that I shared.”

The clinic's board of directors, she continued, has considered “multiple locations for the clinic to begin.”

The board of her own church, Farmville United Methodist Church, approved the clinic opening initially in the church basement, and it would be mobile clinic in that case, she said. “We've looked at lots of different facilities and then we were offered this facility (the Daily Grind). We did not seek it. It was offered to us free. No rent and no utilities, initially. And I don't know that we intend,” she said, “even if we are able to begin operation there, that it will be long-term. That will depend on a lot of different factors.”

Regarding zoning-and Town officials had previously raised zoning questions during their own discussion during last month's work session-Rev. Meadows said “I don't know how that is typically handled but we want to work together with you, we want to be partners with you. We win together or we lose together.”

The clinic's clients will be between 18 and 64 years of age and mostly people with blood pressure issues, diabetes, cholesterol, and asthma. “They'll be no emergency rescue squads coming through…There will be no acute care,” she said.

The free clinic will be collaborating with the organization Volunteers In Medicine (VIM), a group that has started 85 different clinics in the U.S. and all of the clinics “are thriving,” Rev. Meadows said, noting the first clinic started was in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

VIM will make a site visit to Farmville-the organization's executive director will be flying in from Vermont-on May 24 and 25 and Rev. Meadows invited Town Council and Farmville officials “on either of those days. On the 24th we could have dinner and meet with you and on the 25th we could serve you lunch and meet with you or meet for dinner on Wednesday night and we will serve you dinner to offer you any information and try to let the experts answer your questions because we are learning and growing in this. We are being guided by the experts and we have a heart and passion for the people of our community, just like you do…We want to be in a partnership with you. We want what's best for our community, for our businesses and for the folks who live and work on Main Street. And my guess is that many people who work on Main Street will be among our clients. We just hope and pray that we can help to help those who are working to help themselves to be able to have medicine and eat too and pay there rent.”

A meeting on behalf of the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic's plans, and possible use of the Daily Grind space, will take place with Town Manager Gerald Spates to consider any related zoning issues.

If the plans formally proceed toward the Third and Main Street location-nothing has been decided by the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic; its board is conducting a needs assessment-the planning commission, as usual, would consider any zoning-related application first.

Discussing the need for a free clinic to serve the Heart of Virginia, Rev. Meadows noted that more than 47 million Americans are uninsured “and this number is growing at a rate of 2,000 per day. Most of the uninsured Americans-75.7 percent-are members of working families, which I think is really different than what we envision when we think about clinics.”

The Farmville region is “one of the areas of Virginia that has the most severe poverty,” Rev. Meadows said, “and it is one of the only areas in Virginia that currently does not have a clinic.”