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Serving the poor

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By Todd Cohen

CARTHAGE, N.C. — A new clinic that provides free health care and medications to low-income people in Moore County has launched a drive to raise $200,000 to help cover operating costs, and is gearing up to create an endowment and accept planned or deferred gifts.

Launched in April and staffed by volunteer medical professionals, the Moore Free Care Clinic in Carthage has handled 500 patient visits in its first six months, and estimates it will handle nearly 1,900 visits and provide $2 million worth of health care in its first year.

“We do not have a system of medical care that cares for everybody,” says Dr. David Bruton, a retired pediatrician who chairs the clinic’s board. “Our system denies health care to a lot of people, and it’s denied basically and fundamentally on cost.”

In a county with 11.4 percent of residents falling below the federal poverty level, thousands of adults not covered by Medicare and thousands more who are not U.S. citizens, the clinic says, it expects a big demand for its services.

Of patients who have turned to it so far, more than half are white adults, nearly one-third are black adults and 15 percent are Hispanics.

Patients, who mainly are referred to the clinic by emergency rooms, other clinics and the county social services and health departments, can phone the clinic weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to schedule screenings on their financial eligibility and determine their medical condition and whether they take medications.

Based on the screenings, mainly held during clinics Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., the clinic’s volunteer medical staff provides primary, preventive and specialty care to county residents who are uninsured and cannot afford health care.

The clinic, which does not provide obstetrical services, also may refer patients to FirstHealth, which has agreed to provide limited laboratory, x-ray and diagnostic tests for free.

If patients need medication, the volunteer physicians also may give them generic samples donated by local medical practices and pharmaceutical companies.

If donated samples are not available, the clinic will write a prescription and buy the medication for patients, typically for a month.

The clinic also will enroll patients in medication-assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies, which after four to six weeks provide medications for free to patients who are uninsured or fall below the federal poverty level.

Directed by Laura “TJ” Tremper-Jones, a former staff nurse specializing in women’s health at FirstHealth who is fluent in Spanish, the clinic is staffed by more than 100 volunteer medical professionals, including physicians, nurses, physicians’ assistants and lab technicians.

The county leases an office to the clinic for $1 a year for its administrative screenings, and lets it use its health department clinic in the evenings for patient visits.

The clinic has raised nearly $300,000 in startup funds, including $50,000 from 95 local physicians; $50,000 from FirstHealth that matched the physicians’ contributions; $50,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation; $100,000 from an anonymous donor; and nearly $50,000 from the community.

A direct-mail campaign is being launched in November for the annual drive, says Dr. Jim Tart, a cardiologist at Pinehurst Medical Clinic who chairs the clinic’s development committee.

He says Pinehurst lawyer Dan Pate is helping develop documents to create a clinic endowment and allow it to accept deferred gifts such as those made through wills and estate plans.

For information, call 910.947.6550 or visit moorefreecare.org.

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