State Physician General Carrie DeLone stopped in the Johnstown Free Medical Clinic on Tuesday, on the heels of a $66,137 grant awarded to the clinic in January. Aside from a tour of the facility, DeLone heard from patients with incredible stories of the treatment the clinic has provided, packed with a promise of greatly expanded community service through the new state funds.
State Community-Based Health Care grants were awarded to 40 care providers in the state, with 73 applications submitted. The money the clinic received will nearly double its budget to $200,000, according to Executive Director Rosalie Danchanko.
“I feel that we’re moving in the right direction. Now I have a receptionist for 25 hours a week – that’s like a miracle to me,” she said with a laugh.
But that’s a small comfort for the understaffed volunteer outfit compared to the upgrades and planned expansion of services happening now.
Danchanko said the grant money will enable them to keep the clinic open later, hire a new physician assistant, and put money into health care and wellness education for clinic volunteers. A new worker in the prescription storeroom has already come aboard. Records are now digitized and labels for prescription bottles are no longer hand-written, she said. The clinic is also developing a “bus token” program, which will make public transportation to the clinic free.
“A lot of people come on the bus and it’s a hardship for them,” Danchanko said. “So they come and not miss their appointments because they don’t have the $1.50 to take the bus.”
DeLone said there are many “pieces of the medical puzzle” that need improvement in the state.
“Funding is always an issue,” she said. “Getting the funding to support these facilities is very important. It’s trying to improve the access to health care for all Pennsylvanians.
“We were very impressed by the passion and compassion that this clinic shows to the community,” DeLone said. “We are excited to support them in the future.”
Three regular clinic patients were presented to the gathered politicians and local leaders, which included former congressman Mark Critz, Mayor Frank Janakovic and the Cambria County commissioners. Each told a personal story illustrating the work the clinic volunteers do every day.
Pam Renowden, 59, of Johnstown, started regularly checking in at the clinic four years ago after being unable to find practices that were accepting new patients or an employer with health benefits. At the time, she said her COBRA premium was about $200 higher than her retirement pension.
She said the clinic physicians quickly spotted two diagnoses previous doctors had missed: sleep apnea and fibromyalgia. She said another surprise diagnosis exactly one month ago let her see her 59th birthday on Tuesday.
Renowden said she had just stopped into the clinic to pick up a prescription for a sinus infection and ended up on the stretcher of an ER crash team at Memorial Medical Center a little more than 30 minutes later.
“When the (free clinic) physician assistant took my vitals, she got a very concerned look on her face and asked me if I’d mind laying down,” she said. “The next thing I knew there were two other people in the room and they were calling 911.”
Renowden’s condition is called bradycardia – an extremely slow heartbeat. She said it can be very difficult to detect if a person has suffered with it for a while or if it’s misdiagnosed as something else. Renowden said a normal heart rate is somewhere between 80 and 100 beats per minute – hers was at 32, or about one pulse every two seconds.
“They couldn’t believe I was conscious,” she said.
As Renowden underwent emergency heart surgery, she said she was grateful for the extra ways clinic staff organized her care outside the clinic – informing friends and relatives and arranging for them to pick up her car and care for her dog while she was in the hospital.
“They helped coordinate all that here, which was above and beyond what any doctor’s office that I’ve ever been to would ever do,” she said.
“Personally, if I have any money dispensable, I put a donation envelope in – even if it’s $5 or $10 or $20. I just think (the clinic is) very underutilized. It could probably save a lot more lives.
“It allowed me to celebrate my 59th birthday today,” she said. “This is definitely a facility worth the investment.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.