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Free-clinic client numbers up

BY JENNIFER DELGADO | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

More and more Iowans are using free health clinics — and officials said they expect the number to grow as the unemployment rate skyrockets.

At the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic, officials said they haven’t seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients, though they expect the number to soon go up. The Free Medical Clinic provides free services such as shots and checkups to Iowa residents.

“If we had our doors open all the time, we’d probably be full with so many people,” said Sandy Pickup, the clinic’s codirector.

Because the health center relies on a limited number of volunteers, its hours are reduced compared with other clinics. But Pickup noted that every year, the clinic serves more people. Clinic volunteers saw 2,587 clients in fiscal 2008 — almost 70 more than in the previous fiscal year.

To assist more residents, the clinic recently received state funding to lengthen its schedule by three hours. The state money will also be used to buy medicine for patients.

The clinic is seeing more unemployed clients, Pickup said. Although half of the patients have jobs, 99 percent of them have no health insurance. More than 290,000 Iowans are uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an organization that tracks health information.

“The decreased economy and the loss of health insurance is propelling people to use the free health clinics,” said UI School of Social Work Director Ed Saunders. “We will see an increase of people who never would have used these services start going to the free clinics.”

Johnson County Department of Public Health officials said they are also seeing more patients in the clinics. Two of their free health-care programs — which specifically serve women, infants, and children — have grown. People are also calling the health offices to find more information on the free services. The majority of the Johnson County clinics’ clients are uninsured or are members of the federal Medicaid program.

“More people are calling to see how they can access services if they lose their jobs,” Deputy Director Tricia Kitzmann said.

But recent funding cuts forced state officials to slash the department’s budget by $30,000.

Kitzmann anticipates even more cuts within the next few years, she said.

“You can’t continue to run a program with no money,” she said.

Some said they believe the financial situation will only escalate.

“Now, we have a whole new group of people who previously were in the middle class who would have never used the clinics before,” Saunders said. “But with 60,000 jobs a month being lost, I don’t see anything turning around in the next couple of years.”


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