US Mayor Article

Canton Parlays Volunteers, Donations, CDBG Funding into Health Care for Low Income Community
Community Clinic Budget of $221,000 Produces $3 Million in Services for 15,000 Patients

May 15, 2000

The Southeast section of Canton is an area of about 17,000 residents; nearly half are minorities and one-third are living below the poverty level. The residents of this community generally lack the ability to pay for medical services and, until six years ago, had been geographically isolated from primary health care providers: The four primary care physicians in the area at that time were not located near the Southeast residents who may have needed them.

In response to the problem of nearly nonexistent primary health care for the poor residents of the Southeast community, Canton Mayor Richard Watkins called for the cooperation and support of all sectors of the City in the development of a community clinic. This resulted in a local bank donating a building which was located in the heart of Southeast Canton, the City providing Community Development Block Grant funds to remodel it, and area doctors and hospitals donating all the facility's furnishings, medical equipment and supplies.

The Canton Community Clinic opened in September 1994, and in the year that followed, 11 volunteer doctors served more than 2,850 patients. A dental wing opened in March 1996 to a waiting list of 400 persons, many of whom were to receive dental care and oral hygiene treatment for the first time in their lives. That year, about 6,000 patients had medical and dental appointments and participated in the Clinic's new prevention, or wellness, program. The following year, with an expanded wellness program, about 9,000 patients were served.

In 1998, when more than 14,000 were served, over 70 wellness programs and related follow-up services were provided. In 1999, when service levels topped 15,000, there were more than 90 health outreach programs. Also, by 1999, the number of volunteer physicians and dentists had grown to well over 50. In fact, the Clinic operates with only three paid positions; all of its doctors, dentists, nurses and other workers are volunteers.

More than 85 percent of the low income patients coming to the Clinic lack the means to pay for primary health care and have no ties to any other resource or governmental agency. Three of every four are unemployed; one of every four is considered working poor. "The Canton Community Clinic is a success story that is meeting the needs of Canton's low-income and no-income citizens," says Mayor Watkins. "The volunteer health care professionals and the community support are the keys to its success."

While CDBG funds cover the Clinic's operational costs for the 80 percent of the patients who reside in Canton, and the United Way and other foundations cover the costs for patients from outside the City, these costs represent a fraction of the actual value of the medical services rendered - and the fraction gets smaller each year. In 1996, for example, with a budget of $170,000, a half-million dollars in health care services were provided. In 1997, when the budget increased to $212,000, $1.3 million in services were provided. In 1998, with just $9,000 added to the budget, services rendered jumped to more than $2 million. Last year, with no increase in the budget, the value of services rendered jumped again, to $3 million.

And other benefits to patients have increased over the years of Clinic operation: In its first year, only one of every 20 patients could be given medicines free of charge; beginning in 1998, all patients received all the free medicines they needed. This was made possible that year with more than $500,000 in donated medicines; in 1999, the Clinic dispensed more than $750,000 in donated medicines.

The Clinic recovers approximately $4,000 annually from Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance programs providing coverage for patients. Cash grants from local businesses, foundations and other sources are designated for specific services - health care for pre-school children, diabetes treatment and mammography, for example. Over the years, these grants have made it possible for the Clinic to offer an increasing number of programs tailored to the needs of area residents.

Two fund-raisers are held each year for the benefit of the Clinic, with the proceeds invested by a local foundation in an endowment fund. When the fund's principal reaches $3 million, it will pay the Clinic $200,000 annually - enough to make it self-sufficient. At this point, the City will no longer provide funding.

Clinic President Mary Cain says there are a "thousand thousand" success stories to be told, some major, some minor. Examples, she says, are found in the hundreds of child health screenings done over the past two years and in "the positive activities that health physicals promote for those needy youngsters who want to play in a sport but can't afford $50 to $90 for a required physical."

The Canton clinic is now one of 10 free clinics in Ohio. Second only to the Cleveland Free Clinic in terms of patient population and scope of treatment, it is the only facility in the State to provide free, full time primary care for low income patients, including full medical, dental, prevention and prescriptive services. Last year, Clinic officials worked with Ohio Representatives Kirk Schuring and Twyla Roman in a successful effort to retain the State's immunity laws. These laws are of critical importance as they provide unpaid health care workers in indigent programs - including the 55 doctors and dentists serving the Clinic - with immunity from law suits.

Additional information on the Canton Community Clinic is available from Ms. Cain at (330) 454-2000.

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