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Portland's free clinic in transition, visited by Pingree

Having temporarily staved off the threat of closure, the Portland Community Free Clinic is looking to the future.8-19-pingree-2
The free clinic — one of the five agencies that share space at the India Street Public Health Center — is in the process of setting itself up as a nonprofit organization to help bring stability to the operation, according to Clinical Director Dr. Caroline Teschke, and bracing itself for the impact of the Affordable Care Act. The staff and volunteers at the clinic talked about the services and the agency's future during a visit with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, on Wednesday, as a part of the facility's 20th anniversary.
Teschke said the clinic has the funds to continue operating for the next 11 months and can run on $100,000. She said the clinic is 85 percent grant funded with in-kind support from the city.
Mercy Hospital had been the primary benefactor of the clinic, according to Teschke, but was unable to continue providing financial support. Faced with the threat of closure, private donations were able to be assembled to provide enough funding to keep it going.
Establishing the Friends of the Free Clinic will create a better mechanism to solicit private donations, Teschke said, and keep the operations stable.
Started in 1993, the clinic annually serves about 600 patients, who lack a regular doctor, private health insurance, have stable housing and meet income guidelines, according to the program's description. Aside from a few part-time and per diem employees, the clinic is run by volunteer clerical staff, physicians, nurses and counselors.
As the clinic looks to stabilize itself, Teschke said the clinic is keeping an eye on the impending implementation of the Affordable Care Act. She said she knows nothing will change drastically when the Oct. 1 enactment takes place, but with the state having rejected the related Medicare expansion, Maine may not be well poised to deal with the changes.
Teschke said the "working poor" are the primary users of the free clinic and may still find themselves without health insurance as the implementation begins.
"There will be a continuing need for what we do," she said, but the clinic can also serve people by helping them navigate the Affordable Care Act.
Pingree said it's too soon to think about the long-term implementation of the legislation because of efforts to thwart provisions of the law in Congress and other factors.

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