HEALTHY YOU

Free medical clinics face pandemic challenges

They stay open even as volunteer hours drop, as seniors take precautions

New signage is seen at the new His Hands Free Clinic on Second Avenue Southeast in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 1, 20
New signage is seen at the new His Hands Free Clinic on Second Avenue Southeast in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. With the purchase of the new building, which formerly housed an eye clinic, His Hands has doubled its footprint, allowing for expanded medical services and more patient privacy. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

As hospitals in Linn and Johnson County continue to deal with hundreds of COVID-19 cases, the Corridor’s free health clinics are helping patients who have experienced the domino effects of the pandemic.

“People have lost their jobs, and many have lost their health insurance,” said Barbara Vinograde, executive director of the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.

The clinic, at 2440 Towncrest Dr., is seeing an increased demand for its services at the same time it’s limiting the number of people in the building because of social-distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vinograde said.

The clinic quit relying on its 200 or so volunteers when the pandemic first hit last March, relying on its full-time and part-time employees to staff the office.

“This really changed the staff responsibility because they had to take over volunteer duties as well as their usual roles,” Vinograde said. “We really depend on volunteers to help us provide the care that the people in our community need.”

Since then, the clinic has moved to an appointment-only system and has switched as many patients as possible to telehealth consultations over the phone.

No clients, Vinograde said, have been “dropped,” though some have postponed regular appointments.

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“We’ve done our best to determine who really needs to come in,” she said. “That’s not saying that the people we aren’t able to see aren’t important. They are. But we have to make determinations on who can wait.”

Patients who call in with COVID-19 exposure or symptoms are typically referred to the University of Iowa or Mercy Iowa City hospitals, as the clinic is not equipped to treat COVID patients, she said.

Although the clinic is not yet back to its pre-pandemic capacity, many medical and dental services have resumed and volunteers have been returning.

“The good news is, we’ve made a lot of progress and put a lot of protocols into place over the last nine or 10 months,” Vinograde said. “We are now at a place where we feel confident that we can safely provide care.”

His Hands Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids has seen a similar increase in demand for services and a decrease in volunteers, while also implementing safety protocols due to the pandemic.

“We know the demand for appointments is up,” said Dawn Brouwers, executive director of the clinic at 1245 Second Ave. SE. “We used to only be booked out one week in advance, now it’s two.”

The clinic also moved in 2020 and had to temporarily close after the Aug. 10 derecho, which devastated Cedar Rapids.

That, plus the pandemic, has made finding volunteers an “ongoing struggle,” Brouwers said.

The “volunteer-driven” clinic typically works with 240 volunteers who fill a number of positions. But many of the volunteers, Brouwers said, are 65 and older or have preexisting conditions, so their return is dependent on the decrease of COVID-19 cases and widespread vaccinations against the virus.

“The best way to help us right now is to become a volunteer,” Brouwers said.

Both His Hands Free Clinic and the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic, as well as other free clinics in the Corridor, are accepting volunteer applications on their websites. Donation portals also are open.

“The pandemic has impacted our budget,” Vinograde said. “We had to cancel several fundraisers through which we receive needed funding for clinic operations. Our community has been incredible in continuing their support.”

Because of this support, the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic never closed its doors due to the pandemic.

“I’m so proud that, despite so many challenges, we’ve been able to stay open,” Vinograde said. “We haven’t had to close, and that’s something I was very worried about because it’s been a very frightening time of so many unknowns.”

Walk-ins are currently being discouraged at most free clinics, and people are asked to call and schedule an appointment ahead of time. Also, the free medical clinics are not equipped to handle emergencies; patients should call 911 or visit an emergency room.

Community Health Free Clinic

947 14th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

Services: Medical, dental, prescription, optical

Phone: (319) 363-0416

Website: communityhfc.org

His Hands Free Clinic

1245 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

Services: Medical, dental, chiropractic, prescription, physical therapy,

social work, medical equipment, optical (referral)

Phone: (319) 862-2636

Website: hishandsclinic.org

Iowa City Free Medical Clinic

2440 Towncrest Dr., Iowa City

Services: Medical, dental, prescription

Phone: (319) 337-4459

Website: freemedicalclinic.org

Outside the Cedar Rapids / Iowa City area

freeclinicsofiowa.org/find-clinic

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09:00AM | Thu, February 04, 2021

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