‘Angels’ to thousands

Jan 15, 2012

Lost jobs, disabilities, mounting bills, no insurance and costs so high that health care is beyond reach for many people . . . their stories are poignant and pull at your heartstrings.

A notebook, containing hand-written notes in both English and Spanish, holds their stories and experiences at the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic / Dick Parrott Free Dental Clinic (FMC).

The belief that health care is a basic human right guides FMC's staff and board of directors. It is their dedication and support from the community that's helped thousands of underserved people in the Johnson County area receive needed health services – at low or no cost for the last 40 years.

In 2011, the Free Medical Clinic received a grant award from the Community Foundation of Johnson County to fund clinic operations. The clinic's staff cares for nearly 2,600 patients annually.

Through the years, a growing number of volunteers, now totaling 200, and clinic staff have made steady improvements in how and where care services are given. Opening in 1971 in the River City Free Trade Zone in downtown Iowa City, the Free Medical Clinic moved to a facility in the Towncrest Medical Center offering patients access to bus service and parking in 2006. For many years in between, the clinic operated in the basement of the Wesley Center on Dubuque Street.

FMC Co-Director Sandy Pickup says the clinic is seeing people who have never before used their services. "We are seeing a number of new patients with chronic health problems. Each year the clinic has about 6,200 annual clinical visits."

Patients with chronic health problems are centered around three major ailments: diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol or lipid diseases and must be followed more frequently. But health services at FMC can run the gamut from immunizations, injuries, lab tests and STD checks.

Today, 93 percent of FMC patients are between the ages of 18 and 64 years, and represent those who are uninsured or have very high deductible payments. School-aged children have additional options for health services: hawk-i health care, coverage for uninsured children of working families, and Healthy Kids Community Care, a school-based health clinic for Iowa City Community School District students and siblings.

Pickup says, "Our patients are so appreciative. We often hear 'if not for the Free Medical Clinic they wouldn't be alive.' Their gratitude is heartfelt and our reward for their care." 

CUTLINE: Dr. Richard Smith, an otolaryngologist, a Free Medical Clinic volunteer, examines a patient.

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Category: Partners Project