Free Medical Clinic turns 45


By Beau Bowman
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The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic will celebrate an important milestone this year as it observes its 45th anniversary.

Founded in 1971, the clinic is the second-oldest free clinic in the country. The oldest is the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco.

The founders of the clinic created it to provide access to free health care because they saw it as a basic necessity of human life.

The free clinic incorporates a medical and dental clinic, and every month, it hosts eye exams, dermatology appointments, and physical therapy.

Barbara Vinograde, the executive director of the Free Clinic, said the clinic has helped those without insurance and those who are underinsured over the years.

“There are a significant number of people in need of health care,” she said. “The number has slightly declined over the years, but we are still serving a lot of people.”

In honor of the 45th anniversary, the clinic will host “Friday After Clinic,” in which the staff will honor volunteers who have served at the clinic. The event will feature the Dick Watson jazz trio, hors doeuvres, and beverages.

“Almost every year we get at least 6,000 volunteer hours,” Vinograde said. “It’s great to live in a community that supports us.

Vinograde said a lot of free clinics are even older than the one in Iowa City. She said the clinics were forced to close because they didn’t have the funding that the Free Clinic has had.

“I’m so proud we received financial support from our community,” she said.

Current clinic volunteer Melanie Berry has worked at the clinic for 10 years and has held a variety of positions including everything from receptionist to Spanish translator.

“For me, volunteering is a part of my identity,” she said. “I think it’s a really cool way to be involved in the community.”

She said the Free Clinic has been a safety net for patients who aren’t insured or underinsured.

“It’s also been helpful for volunteers who are pre-med students or are in medical school, to get their first experience in the real world,” she said.

The CEO the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, Vitka Eisen, said reaching out is how it has been able to stay open for so long.

“We have been able to stay open as long we have by staying close and connected to the communities we serve, being flexible and responsive to the changing needs of our community so that what we do remains relevant and impactful, and by keeping our vision and beliefs that healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” she said.

She noted how the staff has kept the clinic afloat financially.

“Eventually, we became Federally Qualified Health Center,” she said. “And more recently, the Affordable Care Act has helped enable us to continue to serve our community.”

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