Free medical clinic in Ellsworth set to close at year’s end

Posted Nov. 23, 2013, at 12:50 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2013, at 10:54 a.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic, a nonprofit that provides care to patients with no insurance, will close at the end of this year, said Marshall Smith, a doctor who volunteers at the clinic.

Though the clinic sees about 2,500 patients a year and typically has a waiting list for appointments, long-standing financial troubles will force it to shut its doors on Dec. 31.

“There’s been a consensus among [members of] the board that we will not continue in the new year,” said Kenneth Senter, who works as a volunteer physician at the clinic and serves on the board. “We’re trying to make arrangements for our patients.”

Until 2012, the clinic’s main source of funding came in the form of $50,000 grants from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. The foundation awarded the clinic grants between 2003 and 2011, though not every year. But the organization is not meant to be a source of emergency funding or a constant revenue stream, the foundation’s administrator, Stephanie Leonard told the BDN last year.

“They have been generous with us to a fault,” said Linda Firlotte Grindle, office coordinator at the clinic.

Smith said that at least two applications submitted this year for grants from other organizations have not been accepted. Individual donations have kept the clinic open throughout 2013.

“The administration at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital has agreed to help us try and find physicians in the area that will take some of our patients,” Senter said.

Some of the clinic’s patients may be able to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but Senter and Smith said they are certain that others will fall through the cracks and go without health care for the foreseeable future.

“There is a group of patients who are making too much to get on MaineCare but not enough to get the federal subsidy,” said Smith. “That’s the group that’s going to need us.”

A new free clinic for the uninsured will open in Blue Hill on Monday, Nov. 25, and both Senter and Smith hope some of their patients will be able to go there. However, that clinic will only be open for three hours a week, so the two doctors expressed concern that it would not be able to meet the demand.

Senter said that the closure of the clinic would likely add to the burden on area emergency rooms.

“The problem is,” he explained, “a lot of patients need care but it’s not necessarily acute care.”

He said his clinic treats patients with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

“The emergency room is really not designed to take care of those problems.”

Grindle, meanwhile, is still hopeful that things may turn around before the end of the year.

“I think we could keep the clinic open at least until the end of the summer if we had another $10,000,” she said.

Senter said the clinic is currently looking for an affordable space to store its equipment in the hope that if a grant does come through, it can reopen.

“I’ve been at the clinic now about 18 years,” he said, “and it’s been gratifying to me to be able to help these people.”

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