Western Tidewater Free Clinic funding could be restored

Published 10:37 am Thursday, March 8, 2012


SUFFOLK—The Western Tidewater Free Clinic, which serves low-income residents in Franklin, Suffolk and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, is among dozens of free clinics in Virginia that are anxiously waiting to see what will happen with the state budget.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s initial budget proposal cut significant funding for free clinics and other health care safety net providers — about 2 percent statewide this year and a 50-percent cut next year.

The House of Delegates has restored the funding in both budget bills it has voted on.

“We felt that was a critical need and the governor had erred in taking out those dollars,” Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said Tuesday.

Jones said the governor reasoned that many new people would be added to the Medicaid rolls with new legislation out of Washington, but there would be a six-month gap, Jones said.

“We felt very strongly we needed to restore that funding,” Jones said.

However, the Senate killed the first bill, leaving some wondering what will happen if it kills the second.

“I guess we’re back at square one,” said Caroline Martin, president of the board of directors at Western Tidewater Free Clinic.

The cuts would have taken funding from the Virginia Health Care Foundation, which distributes money to free clinics that provide medical care to uninsured and underinsured Virginians.

The cuts at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic would reduce the number of visits by about 1,000 a year, or 8 percent. The funding the clinic receives from the Virginia Health Care Foundation is just under 10 percent of the current budget.

“We really do appreciate the efforts that are being made to preserve that,” said Miriam Beiler, the executive director of the clinic.

Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, this week called upon the House of Delegates to restore funding in the budget for free clinics. His district includes parts of each locality served by the clinic.

“The restoration of this funding would directly benefit the Western Tidewater Free Clinic and allow them to offer their valuable services,” Morris said in a press release issued Tuesday.

Beiler said funding from the Virginia Health Care Foundation helped set up the dental suite at the free clinic and is paying for a dentist to work 16 hours a week, among funding other needs.

The cuts in the state budget also would affect organizations such as sickle cell community providers and AIDS intervention centers.

“This funding would restore critical dollars for the providers of the health care safety net in the Commonwealth,” according to the press release from Morris.