Volunteers in Medicine will open a new free clinic in Scranton and expand services in Wilkes-Barre thanks to two grants from the state Department of Health.
Kelly Ranieli, executive director of Volunteers in Medicine in Wilkes-Barre, said staff was researching the possibility of opening a free clinic in Scranton for some time.
“We knew there was an absolute need for free health care in Lackawanna County. So when the notice came out (about about the grant availability) from the Department of Health, it seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Ranieli said.
VIM applied to the department’s Community-Based Health Care Grant Program and was awarded $500,000 to open and staff the new clinic and $185,450 to hire a medical director and nurse for the Wilkes-Barre clinic at 190 N. Pennsylvania Ave., as well as implement an electronic medical records system there.
Department spokeswoman Holli Senior called the program “a core tenant of Governor (Tom) Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan that strives to bring immediate preventative primary care services to underserved areas of the state. Programs like this one are critical to increasing access to care.”
The VIM clinic in Lackawanna County is being established in collaboration with The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education and will be located at 640 Madison Ave. Services will be provided by The Wright Center’s medical residents and volunteer healthcare providers.
Wright Center already operates an HIV clinic and a primary care facility in the Madison Avenue site. Staff hope for a soft opening of the free clinic on May 1. The new clinic will initially be open weekday afternoons; operations will expand to 40-plus hours per week as more medical professionals sign up to volunteer.
The new hires at the Wilkes-Barre clinic will ensure medical staffing for its 40-plus operating hours and allow walk-ins to be better accommodated.
Ranieli expects there will continue to be a need for free clinics far into the future, even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
She cited a report by AmeriCares, a non-profit emergency response and global health humanitarian organization, that says millions of people who are uninsured will remain so not only in 2014, but for years to come, and millions more will move from uninsured to under-insured status.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 31 million people will be uninsured 10 years from now when the ACA is in full effect. And given that the existing network of free clinics serves only 2 million people, there will clearly be a continued role for these organizations and more demand from uninsured patients than can be met by them, the report states.