Spotlight On … Ithaca Health Alliance/Ithaca Free Clinic

By Rob Montana
Tompkins Weekly

Photo Provided by Ithaca Health Alliance
Clinic Coordinator Luz Rivera and Administrative Coordinator Olivia Knewstub stand in front of the Ithaca Free Clinic, located at 521 W. Seneca St. in Ithaca.

Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.

This week we are highlighting the Ithaca Health Alliance and its program, the Ithaca Free Clinic. To learn more about the organization and the clinic, we talked to Norbert McCloskey, executive director of the IHA.

Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Norbert McCloskey: The mission of the Ithaca Health Alliance is to facilitate access to health care for all, with a focus on the needs of the uninsured and underinsured.

TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
NM: The Ithaca Health Alliance through the operation of the Ithaca Free Clinic provides direct primary and holistic health care, health education, and medical debt related financial health services to uninsured and underinsured residents of Tompkins County and the surrounding region. The Ithaca Free Clinic is now in its 11th year of operation, and the Ithaca Health Alliance is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The Free Clinic provides health care services, in most part, to those members of our community who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid and are too young to qualify for Medicare. They do not make nearly enough to afford health insurance plans available through the Affordable Care Act’s Market Place that do not come with exorbitant co-pays and deductibles and lack coverage for essential, everyday healthcare needs.

The Free Clinic services help patients like Linda and Sam.
Linda had worked in the same job position nearly five years and then was laid off. Linda’s health insurance was provided by her employer. When Linda lost her job, she also lost her health insurance coverage.

Sam is a hard-working member of our community. He works two jobs to make ends meet. Neither employer provides health insurance coverage. Sam earns too much to be eligible for Medicaid and not nearly enough to afford non-catastrophic, low-deductible health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The Free Clinic treated nearly 1,000 patients, like Linda and Sam, through 3,200 patient visits in 2016, providing integrated healthcare services, medical supplies, and financial aid services to our community valued at $690,000.

All indications are that 2017 service numbers will match or exceed 2016 service numbers. In fact, for the first time in three years, demand for medical services has begun to rise after seeing a drop as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The continued uncertainty about the federal government’s role in providing access to health care and raising insurance premiums may be driving this increase in demand for Free Clinic services.

TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
NM: As mentioned above, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid funding makes it difficult to plan for future demand for Free Clinic services. The implementation of the ACA helped 8,000 members of the Tompkins County community gain access to health insurance. Subsequently, the Free Clinic saw a decrease in demand for primary health care services. That demand is now on the rise. With the possible sudden loss of federal support for the ACA and Medicaid, the number of patients needing Free Clinic Services may skyrocket.

To be as prepared as possible for this potential increase in demand, the Free Clinic has expanded efforts to increase our resource and donor base and recruit additional volunteer medical providers, MD’s, PA’s, NP’s, and RN’s.

TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
NM: There are several ‘somethings.’ First, 87 percent of our patients are employed, usually at more than one job. Over half of our patients are women. In fact, women make up 76 percent of the patient roster for our Chronic Care program. Second, the Ithaca Free Clinic provides health care services that the uninsured, underinsured, and underserved members of our community can find nowhere else. Third, the Free Clinic receives no federal or state funding. Fourth, the Free Clinic offers free pre-employment physicals if you have no insurance. Just call and make an appointment. Finally, all medical and holistic services are provided by volunteers. IHA and Free Clinic services would not be possible without the nearly 8,000 hours that 120 volunteers give annually to ensure access to health care to our neighbors in need. Our volunteers are the best

TW: How can people best support your mission?
NM: We are incredibly grateful for the community support we receive. Any additional funding support would be much appreciated and provide necessary health care services for patients like Linda and Sam. Every donated dollar provides $3.50 in healthcare-related services. We would encourage medical providers looking for volunteer opportunities to spend 2-4 hours a month with us at the Free Clinic, helping our community members in need. Not a medical provider? Volunteer for one of the many administrative and support roles available. Ask about joining our Board. Please encourage anyone you know who may benefit from Free Clinic services to stop into one of our walk-in clinics, from 2-6 p.m. Mondays and 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, or call (607) 330-1254.

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For more information about the Ithaca Health Alliance and Ithaca Free Clinic, visit IthacaHealth.org.