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Free medical clinic to help the uninsured

April 28, 2008
By DIANE SPEER, News Lifestyles Editor
The survey statistics are several years old, but Steve Hammond, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, still finds them disturbing. According to the 2003 numbers, 3,000 people in Alpena County lack any kind of medical insurance.

“Those are not recent numbers,” Hammond said. “I suspect the numbers have increased or at least the number of people who are under-insured has increased.”

With dual careers in both the ministry and the medical field, Hammond has taken the lead in galvanizing his church, other local medical professionals, health organizations and the community to establish a free health clinic.

Now open two evenings a week since mid-March, the clinic is located at the Presbyterian Church, 1600 W. Chisholm, in a large former Sunday School room that has been converted into three separate exam rooms.

The new service, called the Free Clinic of Alpena, is staffed by all volunteers. It will provide medical care and health education to the uninsured and under-insured of the region through direct primary care and through community partnerships with other health care organizations.

Dr. Henry Stibitz, now retired, serves as medical director. Five other area doctors and numerous physician’s assistants also are giving of their time to staff the clinic that is operated by a 14-member community-based board of directors.

Office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8:30 p.m. Walk-in patients may be seen if time permits and staff are available, but appointments are encouraged so the clinic can have the appropriate number of volunteers available.

Though the clinic has not been advertised much to date, patients are already finding their way to the facility.

“This is a place where they can come and not be judged or be fearful of incurring some kind of bill,” Hammond said, adding that patients are not required to prove their financial need to receive free health care.

Participating in a free health clinic is not a new concept for Hammond, who moved to Alpena in 2004. He started out his career in church work in a small community in Idaho where the town’s closest physician was located 40 miles away. He ended up going back to school to obtain a physician’s assistant degree, before returning to that community to work.

Eventually he became a full-time physician’s assistant, although he continued to do substitute ministry work. He also was a faculty member for six years at the Family Practice Residency Program in Spokane, Wash.

A stint serving as an interim pastor of a church made him realize that he wanted to live in a place where he could do both — be a pastor and a physician’s assistant. Alpena offered that chance between the First Presbyterian Church pastorate and a position he previously held at Baybrook Medical Center but has since given up.

For the past year and a half, Hammond has met and worked with others in the community to first explore the need for a free clinic, and then to help establish it. His congregation has been supportive of the effort, he said.

“This is a result of evaluating the need, exploring with other people such as the Alcona Health Center, the Health Department, Alpena Regional Medical Center and individuals who expressed an interest in moving forward with the creation of a clinic,” Hammond said.

Currently, Michigan has 52 other free clinics located around the state. The Free Clinics of Michigan organization assisted with the formation of Alpena’s new clinic by providing start-up information. The Presbytery of Mackinaw provided a $4,000 seed grant.

“Since then, there’s been a lot of community support, individual grants and a grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan that have helped to buy medical equipment,” Hammond said. “There is a whole list of people who have contributed.”

The clinic also received donations of computers and two exam tables from ARMC as well as in-kind donations of electrical and plumbing work necessary to get the facility up and running.

Hammond said the clinic is here to help people, including those with acute illnesses and those needing assistance in managing chronic illnesses.

“Most free clinics seem to get loaded up with diabetics, hypertension and depression,” he said. “That’s the mainstay of the folks, and they’re mainly between the ages of 19 and 64.”

The clinic will not keep drugs on the premises. Staff will be prescribing generic brands of drugs and helping people with different online drug programs offered through pharmaceutical companies.

A special open house and dedication is planned April 28 at the clinic. The public is invited to attend. For more information about the facility or to make a medical appointment, call 354-3888.

Article Photos

Steven Hammond, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Alpena, helped to start a free medical clinic that will be staff ed by local volunteer doctors, physician's assistants and other medical personnel.

Fact Box

Free Clinic of Alpena
Located inside
First Presbyterian Church,
1600 W. Chisholm
Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays,
6:30-8 p.m.
Call 354-3888 for appointments

Clinic open house
and dedication:
April 28, 7 p.m.



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