Virginia Beach health clinic closes after 35 years | Associated press
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – Wendy Knight was just divorced and had no health insurance when she first visited the Beach Health Clinic 12 years ago.
“I was greeted with open arms,” said Knight, 60. “The best service I have ever received.”
Knight has been on diabetes treatment for years.
“I could never, ever pay for my prescriptions without the clinic,” she said.
But like many others who are now able to take advantage of recent Medicaid expansions, appointments and medications through his primary care physician are now paid for by the program.
Lately, fewer patients have walked through the door of the Beach Health Clinic because Medicaid made it unnecessary. As a result, the 35-year-old non-profit will close on December 1.
It’s a bittersweet end for longtime CEO Susan Hellstrom.
“I hate this job now because it dismantles something that I love so much, but it’s for a good reason,” she said.
On Tuesday morning, Hellstrom met with several physiotherapists to sort out the medical supplies that will be donated to nonprofits in the area.
In its early days, the clinic was housed in a small beach cottage on Baltic Avenue and 18th Street in Oceanfront. It was founded in 1986 by three members of the First Presbyterian Church who wanted to help those in need, including the homeless population that gathered in the resort area.
A few years later, in 1992, he moved to a former library building on 22nd Street. Hellstrom started volunteering in 1997 and remembers how busy the clinic was during the summer.
“We could see a lot of patients these days, but we got past it,” she said.
In 2001, with help from the City of Virginia Beach, the clinic moved to an office building at 3396 Holland Road. Hellstrom accepted a “temporary” executive director position in 2003 and has held that position since.
“I just liked the idea of helping people when they are depressed,” she said.
Just six years ago, the clinic provided more than $ 5 million a year in services and drugs donated to people without health insurance. Community grants helped support it, and dozens of nurses, doctors, and medical students volunteered hundreds of hours to the effort.
“The Virginia Beach medical community has really grown stronger,” Hellstrom said. “These are the people who have the biggest hearts.”
Elizabeth Ware, a registered physiotherapist, has volunteered for several years.
“People couldn’t afford it any other way, and they were very grateful,” Ware said. “You felt like you made a difference for them even more than in a firm where I was paid.”
At its peak, the lobby was so full that patients were spilling into the conference room, waiting to be seen. Every exam room was busy and doctors were busy in the hallways. Fresh vegetables grown in the community garden behind the building filled a take-out bowl.
Doctors at the Beach Health Clinic treated a variety of conditions affecting the bones, heart and mind. Most of their patients were working poor who set aside time on a certain day of the week to stand in line outside the door waiting to be seen.
“When you are able to offer so many different services, when you are able to get that kind of specialized care, you attract a lot of people,” Hellstrom said.
The clinic served patients who landed in Virginia Beach with little money or resources, including those who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We’ve always been able to fill that void very quickly,” Hellstrom said.
The establishment’s pharmacy opened in 2007; a dental clinic followed in 2013.
About three years ago, access to Medicaid expanded in Virginia. Adults aged 19 to 64 whose income is 138% or less of the federal poverty line now have free medical coverage through the federal and state program. This had a major impact on Beach Health Clinic.
“Eighty percent of our patients just walked,” Hellstrom said. “I’m not saying we weren’t wonderful, but now they can get a date, and that covers the drugs.”
Maintenance of the clinic building has become too expensive to continue for so few patients. The Beach Health Clinic Foundation, which provided support to the clinic, will continue its mission by sponsoring health trips or medication needs in the community.
While Hellstrom is sad that the clinic is shutting down, she is happy that her former patients continue to receive the medical care they need.
“At least in Virginia Beach, we were able to make that little difference,” she said.
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