B.G. free clinic opens doors

It gives low-income, uninsured north county residents an option for health care

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 
photoPhlebotomist Becky Lindberg, center, and lab technician Jan Bradley, left, discuss lab procedures with Dr. Jens Metzger at the new Battle Ground HealthCare clinic. The clinic offers free health care for low-income, uninsured adults.

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If you go

What: Battle Ground HealthCare ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Why: The clinic provides free primary care for uninsured adults ages 18 to 65 whose income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Call the clinic to schedule an appointment. The clinic is currently open only on Tuesday nights.

When: 4 to 6 p.m. May 22.

Where: 11117 N.E. 189th St. Suite 216 in Battle Ground.

Information: 687-8941; http://www.battle...>

When Ken Nodes was employed and insured, he was able to manage his diabetes with regular visits to a physician.

But when the Battle Ground resident lost his job six months ago, he lost his employer-provided medical insurance and couldn’t keep up with payments for doctor visits.

“My diabetes was completely out of control, and I knew I needed a doctor or I was going to be in really bad shape,” Nodes said.

Nodes’ situation isn’t unique, especially in north Clark County, said Sue Doyle, an occupational therapist.

“This north county area still has a really high patient-to-doctor ratio, even if you have insurance,” she said. “When you don’t have insurance, there are no services.”

But now low-income, uninsured adults have at least one option in north county.

This month, Battle Ground HealthCare opened the doors to its free clinic in Meadow Glade. The clinic will celebrate its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this month.

The clinic is run entirely by volunteers and provides primary care services and chronic illness management to adults ages 18 to 65 who are uninsured and whose income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. For a single person, that’s $21,780 a year or $44,700 for a family of four.

About 80 volunteers run the clinic, from greeters and receptionists to phlebotomists and physicians. For now, the clinic is open one evening a week by appointment only. But as the patient and volunteer lists grow, the clinic will expand its hours.

The clinic is partnering with Fred Meyer to prescribe low-cost medications. Technicians and phlebotomists can conduct some tests in the on-site laboratory; more advanced lab work is done at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

Patients can also speak with a dietician and nurse educator for information about their health. By the end of the year, clinic officials hope to have a dental clinic up and running.

The clinic does not provide urgent care services.

“It’s a great place to be, especially if you’re like me, with no insurance and nowhere to turn,” Nodes said. “I don’t know where I would have been if it hadn’t been for that clinic.”

Sea Mar Community Health Center and New Heights Clinic offer primary care services, but those centers are struggling to meet the need. And for people who live in rural north county, driving into Vancouver for a visit to the doctor isn’t always feasible, said Dr. Jens Metzger, the clinic’s medical director.

Metzger also volunteers his time at the Free Clinic of SW Washington, which provides urgent care services. Patients often come into that clinic with ongoing health needs. Physicians treat the patients in crisis by prescribing medication and hope they find a doctor to provide ongoing care, Metzger said.

“People who have long-term illnesses, where they’re not getting better, that’s where they fall through the gaps,” he said.

The need for free primary care providers is what prompted the Meadow Glade Seventh-Day Adventist Church to pursue opening the clinic at 11117 N.E. 189th St. Suite 216.

For the last couple years, volunteers have worked to establish a Battle Ground HealthCare board of directors, select Ruthie Gohl as executive director and Metzger as medical director, and recruit medical professionals to volunteer. Work also included remodeling the church-owned building, said Doyle, who also volunteers at the clinic.

None of the staff at the clinic is paid, and the center has an operating budget of about $33,000 for the rest of the year. Doyle said the clinic is looking to the community for support through donations and fundraisers. Once the clinic is more established, Doyle will begin the task of applying for grants to fund operations.

“It’s definitely still a work in progress,” Doyle said, “but we’re getting there.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.