Lake County Free Clinic Provides Life-Saving Medical and Dental Care

Duane* was living in a local homeless shelter in March 2018 when Sue Bell, a nurse educator at Lakeland Community College and volunteer at Lake County Free Clinic, suggested he pay a visit to LCFC.

“She just wanted me to be checked out because I was having some problems,” he said. “When I first came, they said I had type 2 diabetes.”

He knew he needed to make a change. His test came back so high “any physician would be worried because it was almost at a diabetic coma level,” he said. Duane learned as much as he could about his condition. He started exercising, eating better, kept his appointment every three months and regularly took the medication prescribed — and provided to him — by LCFC.

“Now, it’s under control,” he said. His tests are at healthy levels, which he said he wants to get even lower, to make sure he stays healthy.

Duane is one of more than 1,300 individuals who found life-saving care at Lake County Free Clinic, the only truly free clinic providing medical and dental care, lab tests, supplies and education in Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and eastern Cuyahoga counties. In 2018, LCFC provided more than 22,000 services in nearly 4,000 treatment visits.

“Free clinics are an integral part of the safety net, not only here in Lake County, but across the country,” said LCFC Executive Director Marty Hiller, who has been involved with supporting free and charitable clinics since 1973. “They are gap fillers. Free clinics are a reflection of their community.”

You can make a difference. LCFC will offer its quarterly Coffee at the Clinic at 9:00 a.m. August 23rd.

Meet with leaders and volunteers, enjoy light refreshments and learn how you can make an impact and save lives of northeast Ohio neighbors. Or, support the work of the clinic and learn more at lakefreeclinic.org.

LCFC reflects the community in two ways:

  • Free clinics show how the population accesses health care. There are a number of people who became insured through recent reforms, who couldn’t afford to use their insurance, Hiller said. “All they could afford to do was pay a premium on the most basic of plans and yet when it came to co-payments or deductibles, they were budget-breakers for the population,” Hiller said.
  • Others have what some call ‘junk insurance,’ which covers you in the absolute most catastrophic of situations. You don’t pay a penalty because you have insurance, yet if you get sick, you have no place to go. LCFC is the place where patients who have fallen through the safety net can turn, and we welcome them.”

Free clinics show the value the community places on healthier communities. More than 90 percent of the medical and dental professionals at LCFC are volunteers; often, they are the same providers working in settings like Cleveland Clinic, Signature Health and in private practice.

“We’re a reflection of the generosity of this county,” Hiller said. “A free clinic is not free to everyone. It’s free to the patients. Many of our patients will give a donation because they want to help someone they way they’ve been helped, but it’s not a condition of care.

“There are people out there who can’t afford to get what you and I can get through insurance or other means, and they want to have a healthier community. They want to be certain that the community is a great community for all who are within it. We do a lot with charitable giving, and that generosity is more important today than ever before.”

An average medical or dental visits comes at a cost to LCFC of $75, and LCFC expects to provide more than 4,000 visits this year alone. Every $1 donated to LCFC provides about $10 in market value services, including prescriptions, education, medication and supplies, and medical and dental treatment visits. This includes dental fillings, cleanings, exams and extractions, and everything from the flu and colds to hypertension, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

For patients like Duane, LCFC becomes their primary care provider. “This is my primary provider,” he said. “I usually see Dr. Fike and sometimes Dr. Cho. The quality of care is excellent. It’s the fact that people actually care about the patients and are actually interested in the patients’ health, not just like, ‘You’re a number, I checked your chart, blah blah blah, next.’”

Hiller said this is common. “It’s not just about putting a bandaid on a big problem,” he said. “It’s about really trying to dig into that problem and provide the same sort of care you’d receive if you went to another setting.

“Those in our community that are uninsured and underinsured could be living next door to you. You simply don’t know. Someone that works in a setting that has health insurance available if you can pay a portion of the premium … If you’re getting minimum wage or slightly above that, insurance is out of your reach and you go without. Here, we try to fill that gap.”

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