The Richmond Register

Local News

June 5, 2014

Health, Now! Clinic seeks new home

Has no plans to close down

RICHMOND — The Health, Now! Clinic of Madison County, which has been operating out of Richmond’s City Hall basement rent and utility free the past five years, is looking for a new space.

It recently received notice from the city that it would have to give up the space in 90 days, according to Dr. Sheila Virgin, the clinic’s founder.

The volunteer-driven, donor-supported clinic has been serving the uninsured and underinsured in Richmond since 2005, but contrary to rumors, it has no plans to close and is making every effort to relocate, Virgin said.

The clinic, open Tuesday and Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m., receives approximately 1,700 office visits a year. A family nurse practitioner can diagnose and treat patients, provide prescription assistance, administer various injections and provide services for patients ages 2 and up.

No one is turned away because of inability to pay, Virgin said, but patients are asked to donate $15 per visit if they are able.

However, the clinic is not closing because of funding issues related to the Affordable Care Act, said Virgin. But, the clinic has seen a decline in patients since the legislation, often called Obamacare, was implemented.

A number of the clinic’s former patients now qualify for Medicaid, she said, and those who have signed up for insurance through the state health exchange, Kynect, no longer qualify for prescription assistance through the clinic.

But that has not significantly affected the clinic’s operation, which has always been donor-funded, she added.

Virgin predicted the clinic will see many of those patients again if they cannot afford the premiums or deductibles associated with their new insurance plans.

Health, Now! is there “to stand in the gaps” for those who cannot afford health care, she said. For example, if an insured person cannot get a prescription covered, the clinic is there to help.

In 2005, the clinic began in a space at Baptist Health Richmond (then Pattie A. Clay) where it payed a small amount for rent, Virgin said.

The clinic then moved downtown and shared space with the food pantry and clothing closet Grace Now, a sister organization on South Collins Street. But the clinic then received an influx of visits because it was within walking distance of many of its patients, said Virgin. So it moved into yet another space nearby.

During the clinic’s first three years, it received $15,000 in grants from the city, she said. Later on, the city “fell on to hard times financially.” The clinic then was invited to use the City Hall space in lieu of financial support, she said.

And the Health, Now! volunteer staff is grateful for that help, but they are not leaving City Hall by choice or because they are shutting down, Virgin emphasized.

Mayor Jim Barnes said although Health, Now! is a “good cause” and “serves a good purpose,” having a health clinic in the bottom of City Hall “was one of those things that was never meant to be.”

Barnes said he was under the impression the clinic would be closing down because it was not receiving enough business.

While the mayor is uncertain exactly what will occupy the soon-to-be vacant City Hall space, he said the city needs it for storage.

“It was time to utilize City Hall better than that,” said Barnes, who also expressed concern about leaving the building’s back door open during the clinic’s evening hours.

He said some city employees were getting sick often and wondered if use of the building as a clinic could be contributing to their frequent illnesses.

“I really appreciate the work they’ve done,” the mayor said of the clinic. “We will try to find other ways to support them.”

Virgin said she hopes someone will soon step forward and offer the clinic space for a modest price.

Because the clinic paid no rent or utilities at City Hall, all of its funds went to patient care, she said.

Virgin estimates Health, Now! needs at least 1,500 square foot of space to operate the clinic.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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