News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 14, 2013
Free Blue Hill health clinic to open its doors on November 25
Garfield: “Anyone who comes in can be seen, no matter what”

Peninsula Free Health board officials meet in Blue Hill

From left, Peninsula Free Health board officials Leslie Goode (vice president), Dr. Jane Garfield (president) and Lynn Cheney (secretary-treasurer) meet at the Blue Hill Congregational Church—the site of a free health clinic opening November 25.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Want health care?

If you’re uninsured, or not sure if you qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Peninsula Free Health can help.

“Anyone who comes in can be seen, no matter what,” said Dr. Jane Garfield, PFH board president and clinic doctor.

The free clinic opens on Monday, November 25, at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, with hours every Monday from 3 to 6 p.m.

“People without insurance are terrified of a medical situation,” Garfield said in a recent phone call. “They have avoided medical care…but they desperately need help.”

While intake staff will ask whether a client is insured, no verification or paperwork is required, although identification will help.

The nonprofit 501(c)(3) clinic was formed under the auspices of the Washington Hancock Community Agency. With a $10,000 matching donation to start, from the Lifeboat Foundation of Chicago, Peninsula Free Health hopes to raise money from the community.

But first, the clinic must discover what the community needs from a free health clinic.

“We’re trying to find out what the community wants rather than saying to the community, this is what you should have,” Garfield said.

The clinic will cover “pediatrics to geriatrics,” said Garfield, and provide health checks, urine analyses and diabetic and hypertension checks.

The clinic has the support of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, although the specific services the hospital can offer are not yet formalized.

“I think the important thing is that they’re committed to being supportive of the effort,” said hospital board member Jim Schatz, who serves as clinic liaison with BHMH. “We’re giving them a laundry list of things that would be most helpful…Procedures have to be fleshed out after the people are coming to the clinic.”

The board is also working to secure low-cost online prescriptions, as well as a cost comparison for individual drugs from local pharmacies.

Garfield and Dr. Robert Walker (retired) are the volunteer doctors on staff; both are covered by their own malpractice insurance.

A retired Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University, Garfield ran the now-closed MedNow health clinic in Ellsworth for 20 years.

“Since then, I’ve been trying to see how [to] set up services for the uninsured, who amount to 70-100,000 in Maine,” she said.

Covering the “gap” in the ACA

While the Affordable Healthcare Act goes into effect on January 1, government subsidies will not cover all individuals, said Vice President Leslie Goode, who has worked in the public health policy field for 20 years.

“The ACA is the biggest advance we’ve had in this country since Medicare/Medicaid was enacted in 1965, but it’s still going to leave gaps,” she said, especially since Maine is one of 21 states “that is not taking up the federal government’s offer to expand Medicare.”

For those who can’t accurately predict their income—the self-employed, those whose income fluctuates and/or who work seasonable jobs—“the ACA is difficult to know,” said Goode.

ACA Navigator Lynn Cheney, who serves as secretary-treasurer of the clinic board, will be at the clinic to guide people through the ACA website.

“The ACA will probably act as a net that will catch a number of people,” agreed Schatz, “but it won’t catch everybody.”

As a Blue Hill selectman, Schatz knows there are people in need. “Very often people come in [to the town office] for general assistance,” he said in a recent telephone call. “More than just a need for heating oil help. Often they are uninsured and they don’t even have MaineCare. They feel they can’t afford to go someplace. This gives a resource.”

Peninsula Free Health has nine members on its board of directors: Garfield, Goode, Cheney, Schatz, Walker, Molly Blake, Sarah Hudson, Rob McCall and Anne Schroth.

Now that word of the clinic is out, “people are coming out of the woodwork to volunteer,” said Cheney. “[This is] a community that’s loaded with professionals.”

But the message Garfield stressed was that the community is the main architect of Peninsula Free Health.

“This is breaking new ground,” Garfield said. “We want to be sure we have input, and we know where we’re going. We really want the community to help us to decide our future plans.”