Family Clinic in dire straits

By J. Anfenson-Comeau

The United Community Healthcare Clinic in Eunice is facing a financial crisis, and may have to cut back on services if its doors are to remain open.

There’s no talk of closing in the foreseeable future, but things are looking pretty grim for the United Way clinic which provides free health care and non-narcotic pharmaceuticals for the working uninsured of the tri-parish area.

The clinic receives monthly funds from the St. Landry-Evangeline United Way, but in the past, those funds have equalled approximately one-third of its operating costs.

The rest of its money has come from donations and grants received from disaster relief agencies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Those disaster relief grants dried up last year, while the clinic’s client base has continued to expand.

As 2008 wound down, the clinic added approximately 120 new clients in two months, and on Tuesday’s clinic nights, sees approximately twice the number of patients it saw two years ago.

“We have never turned anyone in need away,” said clinic director Yancy Fontenot at Thursday’s board meeting, “And I’m so afraid we’re going to have to, because I can’t do that.”

Nevertheless, that’s one of the options on the table that St. Landry-Evangeline United Way Executive Director Cathy Duplechin discussed at last Thursday’s Advisory Board meeting.

Other options include cutting hours and reducing staff, but that would still not be enough to keep the clinic fully-funded.

Pharmaceutical companies donate the medications, and several local pharmacists volunteer their time to distribute them.

The clinic also has four doctors and two nurse practitioners who volunteer on Tuesday’s clinic nights.

Most of the costs are operational - utilities, supplies and payroll. The clinic is already understaffed, and Duplechin said that due to the confidentiality of medical records, the clinic needs a minimum number of paid staff.

Additionally, the clinic’s filing for its own 501(3)c status has been unexpectedly delayed due to miscommunication, and Duplechin said she expects the clinic will have its own non-profit status in approximately three months.

By attaining its own 501(3)c status, the clinic will be able to apply for grants it’s not eligible for under the umbrella of United Way.

United Way will continue to fund the clinic as it has been, but Duplechin said that money is not enough.

“The Board (St. Landry-Evangeline United Way Board of Directors) said we need to look to the community to support the clinic. They need to step up,” Duplechin said.

By providing free health care to the uninsured, Duplechin said it keeps people from using the hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency treatment, a benefit for both the hospitals and the community.

In addition to seeking donations from local businesses and civic groups, Duplechin said that the clinic will heighten its grant-writing efforts.

Duplechin and Fontenot met with local lawmakers late last year, and urged them to seek funding for the clinic at the state level, but with the current budget cuts, it will be an uphill battle.

Plans are also underway to organize a major fund raiser for the clinic.

“I’ve seen the impact this clinic has had on the community - it’s phenomenal,” said Dottie McDonald, head of LSUE’s Division of Nursing and Allied Health. “I don’t want to see this clinic fail.”

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