More Funding to Free Clinics in North Carolina

( [email protected] ) Jan 15, 2004 12:11 PM EST

ASHEVILLE, NC – An unexpected news is giving joy to Western North Carolina. The Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministries free clinic will be receiving a $10 million grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation for the N.C. Association of Free Clinics.

The ABCCM clinic is one of the 57 facilities around the state that make up the N.C. Association of Free Clinics. North Carolina has more free medical clinics than any other state, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and about 1.2 million uninsured residents.

"It's great," Peggy Edwards who relies on ABCCM’s free medical clinic said in excitement, "They need it. This is the only place I can come. I don't know where I'd go without it."

Ben Grabow, program officer with the free clinic association, said member clinics, including ABCCM and seven others in Western North Carolina will receive $15,000 a year for five years and it could be possible for them to receive more funding.

The Rev. Scott Rogers, ABCCM executive director, said his group's clinic, which serves the uninsured, will seek more money to expand the clinic's hours and services. Currently the clinic serves about 7,000 medical and 1,000 dental patients each year, Rogers said, requiring about 30,000 patient contacts accounting for multiple visits. Volunteer doctors staff the clinic for six three-hour blocks each week.

"We cram into a half-day what most clinics do in a day," Rogers said.

Dr. Lisa Ladd of Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care, who volunteers at the clinic and chairs its board of directors, said more money will allow the clinic the increase staff and serve more patients. About 28,000 Buncombe County adults are uninsured, Ladd said.

Linda Isaac, a director of the free clinic association, said the state's clinics annually provide about $75 million in free medical services to 150,000 patients. In addition to expanding existing facilities, the association plans to finance the creation of 28 more clinics and double its patient load by 2009 with the grant funding.

Established in 1998, the clinic association "acts as a clearing house," said Brad Wilson, Blue Cross general counsel and foundation board member. "In order to efficiently address the need, the funds have been given to the association."

The $10 million grant is the foundation's biggest donation since its November 2000 inception, Wilson said.