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Schenectady Free Clinic could close due to lack of funds

Saturday, June 27, 2009
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— The Schenectady Free Clinic is in danger of closing next month because of a lack of operating funds, clinic officials said.

“We are totally broke,” said Peggy VanDeloo, a nurse who has volunteered at the clinic since it opened six years ago.

Dr. Arnold Ritterband, who helped found the clinic and volunteers there, confirmed the prognosis.

“We certainly need to get assurance of money in a month or two or we will close. I do not see any other alternative,” he said.

The clinic has a budget of $750,000 but has only raised about $40,000 to date for operations. The city provided $15,000 and the county $25,000, with another $25,000 promised, Ritterband said.

The state provided $300,000 in funding to the clinic in the past but is not doing so this year, Ritterband said.

“We have no idea why they denied our grant. We have made repeated attempts to talk to state Health Department officials, and they have not returned phone calls,” he said.

The Health Department did not return a call for comment to The Daily Gazette.

Ritterband said the bulk of the clinic’s budget is used to purchase prescription drugs for patients, as the clinic is staffed primarily by volunteer doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and receives free ancillary service from Ellis Hospital and other medical specialists in the community.

Ritterband said the clinic sees about 3,000 people annually, many with chronic medical conditions that require long-term monitoring, as well as people with mental health issues.

The clinic is open two days a week. Patients go there to receive free health care and free medicine. They either cannot afford their own medical insurance or are ineligible for government-provided medical insurance, Ritterband said.

VanDeloo said, “the main problem is paying for the medicine.”

The clinic owes a significant amount of money to its primary supplier of prescription drugs, and the supplier is threatening to end the relationship, she said.

Ritterband said that should the clinic close, the patients will go to local emergency rooms for care and their medical conditions will likely worsen. They may be able to obtain short-term care through an emergency room, he said, but they would be unable to buy the medicine they need to control their conditions.

VanDeloo said the closure of the clinic “will be terrible. The impact on the emergency rooms will be terrible. I am concerned that the patients will all end up in emergency rooms and that the mental health patients will be hung out to dry.”

The clinic has had money problems before but has always been able to find alternative sources of money, Ritterband said.

“The county has been of significant help in the past. The city has been nonresponsive,” he said.

 
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