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Lake County Free Clinic relocates to new home

Larger Painesville-based facility allows increased access to care, executive director says

Lake County Free Clinic Executive Director Martin Hiller at the facility's new site in Painesville. (Bryson Durst — The News-Herald)
Lake County Free Clinic Executive Director Martin Hiller at the facility’s new site in Painesville. (Bryson Durst — The News-Herald)

By CHAD FELTON | | The News-Herald

PUBLISHED: June 15, 2023 at 11:47 a.m. | UPDATED: June 16, 2023 at 3:41 p.m.

A new era has kicked off for the Lake County Free Clinic, which recently moved into its new-digs permanent space in Painesville at 462 Chardon Road.

The facility is the only provider of no-cost medical and dental care to uninsured and underinsured Northeast Ohio residents.

“A free clinic is only as healthy as the support it receives,” said Executive Director Martin Hiller. “Our new facility provides over twice the amount of treatment space to serve our community. We also have space to begin a more formal health education program to address the related needs of our patients, including healthy food, safe living circumstances, et cetera.

“We do not expect to provide all these service needs directly, but we’ll do good case management to make the best use of other community resources,” he added.

The 8,600-square-foot site, 6,000 of which is utilized, Hiller noted, includes six medical exam rooms, a dental suite, a lab for diagnostic tests and a small pharmacy, along with meeting rooms for the clinic’s case management department to provide social services for patients.

This site is more than double the area of the clinic’s previous location on State Street.

“Should the need arise at some point in the future, we (do) have room to grow, and in the interim, we hope to find a tenant for the remaining space that can serve as an added revenue stream,” Hiller said, noting the cost of the building, renovations and equipment totals over $700,000, a sum 90 percent of which has been raised.

“Anytime you move it’s a challenge, and it was particularly so as it was a two-year process, mostly spent in temporary quarters — a period of time that also included the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “We are (also) proud to note that even with the two full moves it took to reach this point, we lost less than a week of service availability.”

Though the move is complete, additional challenges continue with staffing, as it remains the clinic’s biggest budget item.

And while a part-time position or two may be added moving forward, Hiller said, the organization counts on community volunteers to deliver and support services to the patients it serves, including professionals as well as lay people.

“This will determine our rate of growth,” he added. “Action is driven by need so the challenge will be to maintain the level of operational support necessary to continue to carry out our mission as our services grow….and the unwinding of Medicaid will leave some previously insured patients without a resource — a gap we hope to fill.”

Additionally, the clinic’s dental program, on hold since March 2020 and expected to resume this summer, is seeking dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants to volunteer.

“This (new location) really represents a new chapter in Lake County Free Clinic’s history,” Hiller said. “Since we began in 1971, we have had the interests and needs of the community at the forefront, and have thoughtfully added programs with permanence in mind….for example, we launched our part-time case management program in the spring of 2021 and last November, we were able to expand that full time.”

Last year, the clinic saw more than 900 individuals (nearly 3,600 appointments) visit with medical providers, patient educators and case management personnel, and for more than 22,000 labs, medication, or diagnostic tests or screenings.

“Right now, more than 40,000 individuals across Northeast Ohio are uninsured or underserved, and many are going without medical care because the cost for those who don’t have insurance would mean going without paying for rent, utilities, food or other basic needs,” Hiller said. “As the community’s leading safety-net health care provider, we’re here to catch them and help them improve not just their health, but their quality of life.

“It’s important to recognize that (our) services go beyond improving the health of those who come to us for care, also,” he continued. “A healthier breadwinner or caretaker makes for healthier families — and healthier workers stay on the job, better supporting their families and improving the economy of the entire community, and we have met the need to the best of our ability for the past 52 years and expect to do so for many years to come.”

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Lake County Free Clinic relocates to new home