Cedar Rapids Free Clinics Celebrate Major Anniversaries

0

Julie Elias (left) prays with Zach Larsen during his appointment at His Hands Free Clinic, 1245 Second Avenue SE, in Cedar Rapids on Thursday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Dr. Ann Safo talks with Zach Larsen during her appointment at His Hands Free Clinic, 1245 Second Avenue SE, in southeast Cedar Rapids Iowa, Thursday, May 5, 2022. The clinic has been in operation for 30 years. The Free Community Health Clinic celebrates its 20th anniversary. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

His Hands Free Clinic medical clinic supervisor Polly Draker takes Zach Larsen’s blood pressure during his appointment at the clinic. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Physical therapist Joan Gillon (right) watches Gema Gonzalez do one of her therapy exercises during her appointment at her hands-free clinic, 1245 Second Avenue SE, in southeast Cedar Rapids Iowa, Thursday, May 5 2022. The clinic has been in operation for 30 years. The Free Community Health Clinic celebrates its 20th anniversary. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Physical therapist Joan Gillon (right) gives instructions on which resistance band to use for which therapeutic exercise to Gema Gonzalez during her appointment at His Hands Free Clinic, 1245 Second Avenue SE, in Southeast Cedar Rapids Iowa, Thursday, May 5, 2022. The clinic has been in operation for 30 years. The Free Community Health Clinic celebrates its 20th anniversary. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Its hands-free clinic general manager, Dawn Brouwers (right), translates instructions from physiotherapist Joan Gillon (centre) into Spanish for Gema Gonzalez during her appointment at the clinic. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids — Cedar Rapids’ two free medical clinics are celebrating milestone anniversaries this month.

In May, the Community Health Free Clinic, 947 14th Ave. SE, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The religion-affiliated His Hands Free Clinic, 1245 Second Ave SE, celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

Over their decades of history, the two nonprofit health care organizations have felt firsthand the impacts of changing national health policy and have adapted to meet the changing needs of patients within their community.

After beginning as small operations, both facilities have grown over the years to offer more services beyond traditional primary care. Today, in addition to family medicine, both clinics offer dental care, diabetes education and prescription assistance, and many other services.

As the need continues to evolve, officials say they don’t anticipate a future in which a free medical clinic isn’t needed anytime soon.

History of Free Clinics in Cedar Rapids

Free medical clinics provide health care services to uninsured and underinsured people, including those who may experience a gap in their health care coverage or need services that are not covered by their health insurance .

But about 30 years ago, a free clinic didn’t exist anywhere in Linn County.

Dr. James Bell, now medical director of His Hands Free Clinic and specialist in palliative care and palliative medicine at UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, attended a Christian medical and dental conference in 1991, where he was challenged to help provide health care to low-income residents in their communities.

Upon returning home, Bell said the effort to open a space to provide free medical care to the community was already underway.

“It was a community effort,” Bell said.

This effort culminated a year later, in May 1992, in the opening of what was then called the Cedar Rapids Free Medical Clinic. The clinic opened in the Jane Boyd Community House, operating for a few hours twice a month and serving around 200 people in the first year, said Dawn Brouwers, executive director of His Hands Free Clinic.

The operation continued to grow, and by 2001 the clinic had seen over 5,000 patients.

In 2002, patient needs continued to grow at the free clinic, prompting officials to begin the search for a new site that could meet demand.

At that time, philosophical differences pulled the clinic in two different directions, which ultimately led to the clinic splitting into two organizations in the same year. These clinics became His Hands Free Clinic and Community Health Free Clinic.

Darlene Schmidt, who had served as the clinic’s executive director since 1995, was among the officials to step down to form the Cedar Rapids Free Medical Clinic.

Becoming a secular organization offered more funding opportunities, and Schmidt and other officials wanted to refocus efforts to prioritize patient health care, said Jamie Henley, COO of Community Health Free Clinic.

“There were just these two different opinions about the best way to provide care in the community, and so in 2002 it kind of ended up with (Schmidt) and Dr. William Galbraith saying, ‘We want to separate, and we want to form an organization that is solely focused on taking care of patients and their health care needs,” he said.

Schmidt is now executive director of the Community Health Free Clinic, which opened its new facility in February 2004, with a $1.48 million grant from the Hall-Perrine Foundation. In the first year, the clinic served 10,000 patients, officials said.

Demand for free clinics is growing

In the years since 2002, Community Health Free Clinic and His Hands Free Clinic have continued to grow.

To date, His Hands Free Clinic – which aims to provide ministry in addition to health care – has served approximately 40,000 people.

“We have grown over the years with the needs of the community, but the spirit and ministry of service we provide is the same,” Bell said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed patient numbers slightly, with unique patient visits ranging from 800 to 1,000 per year, Brouwers said. Officials expect those patient totals to reach pre-pandemic levels.

The Community Health Free Clinic has served more than 59,000 unique patient visits over the past 20 years, according to its 2021 annual report. This includes more than 560,500 total services provided at the clinic between Dec. 2, 2002, and Jan. 1. 2022.

These patients fall across the spectrum, but for the majority of those visiting his hands-free clinic this year, they typically fall into the “uninsured” category, Brouwers said. This means they may not work enough hours at their job to qualify for health insurance or “fall through the cracks.”

Many others are immigrants, refugees or unemployed.

Not only has the number of patients continued to increase over the years, but the needs of those patients have also changed.

In addition to its walk-in clinic, the Community Health Free Clinic has begun offering dental and vision services.

Over the years, His Hands Free Clinic also began offering chiropractic, physiotherapy and gynecology services.

In recent years, the need for affordable prescriptions has become apparent as the rising cost of drugs has become too high for the populations served by free medical clinics. In response, His Hands Free Clinic and the Community Health Free Clinic stepped up to distribute medicine to patients in need.

In 2021 alone, the Community Health Free Clinic provided $5.3 million in free prescriptions to patients.

Schmidt said it was important that the free clinic adapt to meet the needs of patients as they change because the organization’s mission “is to care for patients.”

What’s been surprising, Henley said, is the evolution of health care. Today, the focus is much more on holistic care than when the Cedar Rapids Free Medical Clinic began. This includes helping patients obtain housing assistance or SNAP benefits.

“We’ve seen health care change over the past 20 years,” Henley said. “Now it’s really about looking at this holistic approach and saying, ‘How can we help this patient get better on all fronts?’

The Community Health Free Clinic will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a banquet at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 12, at the Cedar Rapids Marriott, 1200 Collins Rd NE.

There, event organizers will unveil a new book chronicling the history of the clinic and its impact on the community. For more details and to RSVP for the event, visit communityhfc.org/20th-rsvp.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Share.

Comments are closed.