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EDITORIAL: Free clinic faces big decision

Take the money or keep autonomy?

The announcement that federal money — $400,000 to $700,000 annually — may be available to fund the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic poses some difficult questions for the clinic board, as well as community members.

The clinic, with a second branch soon to open in Cody, has survived thus far through generous community support and volunteer efforts, but with limited hours one evening a week.

The federal money would enable the clinic to operate on a full-time, 40-hour-per-week basis, but with the strings and red tape that accompany federal community health programs. But the “free” in free clinic would cease to exist — instead the organization would see needy patients on a sliding-fee basis.

The next few months will require an exhaustive look into the pros and cons of the proposal. The Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic Board is divided on how it views the offer, but as Dr. Nick Morris, who along with his wife, Madelyn, founded the clinic, asked, “...the ethical dilemma is, if they're going to give someone $400,000 to see eight times the number of patients, shouldn't we consider it?”

Prior to the proposed meeting with federal Community Health Program representatives in October, donors, community members, volunteers and — just as importantly, the patients receiving services at the clinic — need to voice their opinions to the board about how the clinic can best serve low-income and uninsured people in Park County and surrounding areas.

A federal community health program would have more resources and reach more people — but is the current free clinic model the best choice, with the clinic drawing its strength from continued community support?

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