Pierce/St.Croix free health clinic reaches milestoneThe data is sobering. From April 2007 to the end of last year, there were 10,695 patient visits to the Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
The data is sobering. From April 2007 to the end of last year, there were 10,695 patient visits to the Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties.
During that time the free clinic treated 3,326 patients -- 52% were men. Last year it treated 364 new patients.
The prime age of free clinic patients is 45-64. More than half are jobless. About a quarter work part-time and about a fifth work full-time.
While the free clinic has been able to get many of its medications for free or reduced prices, it dispensed at retail value $639,794 worth of prescriptions to its patients last year.
“The need really hasn’t changed since we began,” says Mary Conroy-Johnson, a free clinic founder and its current board of directors’ chair. “Typically, we see 25 people each evening we’re open, and we regularly have to turn people away.”
Julie Gore, clinic fund development coordinator, says the stark, visible truth starts with the line that forms outside the designated door -- even on the coldest days of winter -- of the River Falls Medical Clinic each Tuesday around 4 p.m.
That’s shortly before the free clinic opens at 5 p.m. Registration generally starts about a half hour earlier.
“It’s very humbling to see because these are not just poverty-stricken people who need our help,” Gore said. “They are often people who have held jobs for a long time but now are unemployed and don’t have health-care coverage. They are older, and their health is more vulnerable.”
That’s what makes the free clinic’s safety net even more essential -- its patients often show up with chronic ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. They’ve delayed seeing a doctor or taking medications because they can’t afford it.
Conroy-Johnson said that, for example, a diabetic patient can need “a minimum seven or eight prescriptions and continual treatments” to regain and maintain adequate health.
“Those are our patients,” says Conroy-Johnson.
Tuesday, April 24, was the five-year anniversary of the River Falls-based free clinic.
No festivities marked the occasion.
In fact, it was just another Tuesday evening where doctors, nurses, social workers, lab technicians and a host of other volunteers tried to provide medical care for those who came without the means to pay for it.
“Our patient list grows exponentially because each week 40-50% of the patients we see are new,” Conroy-Johnson said.
It’s this steadily rising demand that tells Conroy-Johnson that the free clinic remains vital for hundreds of struggling people in Pierce and St. Croix counties.
For the rest of this story, please see the April 26 print edition of the River Falls Journal.