ELLSWORTH, Maine — Thanks to two last-minute donations of $10,000 each and a $25,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation, a free clinic in Ellsworth that appeared destined for closure only a month ago will stay open.
“It’s been a cliffhanger,” said Kenneth Senter, one of the clinic’s volunteer doctors and a member of the board. Senter is 89 and has been volunteering at the clinic for 18 years, he said.
In addition to the new funds, the Ellsworth Free Clinic’s board has seen a change in leadership in 2014. Rita Seger and Meryl Nass, who joined the board in December, will take on the roles of president and vice president respectively, according to Nass.
Nass, a doctor of internal medicine, will begin seeing patients on Jan. 14. She and Seger, who has been seeing patients for 4.5 years, join Marshall Smith, a founding doctor, and Senter to make up the clinic’s team of practitioners.
“We have lots of appointments available,” Nass said. She added that the clinic will be looking for a larger space so that it can have more than one exam room in use at a time.
Nass thinks the clinic’s recent financial problems are fixable.
“The structure was withering while the clinical work was vibrant,” she said, referring to prior years.
“The clinic did not do enough fundraising or outreach,” Nass said. “There was no sign.”
She said that in the past, the clinic was able to rely on a $50,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation that came almost every year between 2003 and 2011.
In 2012 and 2013, the foundation did not fund the clinic. A foundation administrator told the BDN that the foundation is not meant to be a constant revenue stream, rather it is designed to help organizations get off the ground. That left the clinic with about $3,000 at the end of 2013.
Now, with $48,000 in the bank, the clinic will press on. Nass said the board will form committees, create policies and procedures and will continue to apply for grants so that it can get on more solid financial footing.
“We want to reach out to the community,” she said. “We want people to volunteer in any way they can. We want them to know that the clinic is here. We want more practitioners to join us.”
Another free clinic for the uninsured opened in November in Blue Hill, but Lynn Cheney, a member of that clinic’s board, said she did not think the two clinics would compete for patients.
“We’re going to be needed — both of us,” she said.
The Ellsworth Free Clinic is open three days a week and serves patients who are uninsured and underinsured, Nass said.
“Basically everybody who thinks they need to come probably does,” she explained.
“These are patients who can’t pay co-pays and we are generally looking for ways to get them free medications,” she said.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Ellsworth Free Clinic at 667-7953.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Dr. Rita Seger has been seeing patients for several months. She has been seeing patients for 4.5 years.