After three years providing free healthcare for local residents, the pay-it-forward based Volunteers for Health Care Today clinic has closed its doors.

The VHC board, including Dr. Jim Parker, Morris Eagleman, Sue Bailey, Jane Cohn, Dr. Jack Saunders, Barbara Swanson, and Robert Winston voted last month to discontinue the clinics because of the availability of other local medical clinics who accept all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

Founded by Parker and Scott Holland in October 2009, VHC clinics helped hundreds of patients at no cost during clinics held at local facilities two Sundays a month. Patients who received free healthcare services were simply asked to volunteer in their community in whatever ways they see fit and on their own schedule.

“It was a wonderful resource for many people over the last three years,” said Parker. “We are proud of the service we provided. Attendance at the clinics has declined over a period of months, and the clinics are now under-utilized. We want to thank all the local providers and volunteers who provided excellent care to the community free of charge. We also want to acknowledge the patients who used the clinics and then gave back to the community with the pay-it-forward model. I believe that patients held their heads high when they received free care and then paid-it-forward by volunteering in the community.”

Jennifer Malone, CEO of McCloud Healthcare Clinic and the soon to be opened Dunsmuir Community Health Center, said she will miss VHC and the many grateful patients who received care there.

Malone said over the past three years, VHC helped spread the word that there are places in Siskiyou County which are federally qualified health centers, designed specifically to provide access for all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

In addition to the clinics in McCloud and Dunsmuir, the Mercy Family Clinics in Mount Shasta and Lake Shastina are also available to be affordable for everyone, said Morris Eagleman, Vice President Patient Care Services.

“The free clinic did a lot of good work, and the paradigm has changed,” said Eagleman. “The rural health care clinics, who now see all patients regardless of their ability to pay, have reduced the need for a free clinic in this community.”

Malone explained that some in the community still don’t know there are many options for those who are uninsured or underinsured, including federal, state, county and even private programs.

Services at the above mentioned clinics are provided on a sliding scale, Malone said. Patients fill out a form, and based on their income and federal guidelines, are asked to pay a nominal fee that ranges from absolutely nothing, to a fee of $20 to an affordable percentage share of the health services rendered.

Malone pointed out that even if a person has insurance, if the deductible is high they still qualify for assistance.

“Critical access clinics really work with people to ensure they get excellent care... we don’t turn people away,” Malone said.

In a press release, the VHC board thanked those who donated funds for the clinics, especially Greg and Chris Messer who gave $10,000 to cover the expenses and promotion of the clinics.

“Thanks also goes to Pharmacy Express and Gwen Hopkins for donating vital medications, Joanne Steele, Nadine Aiello and Aiello Graphics for promotional materials, and Elizabeth Mitchell-Collord and Deane Lanier for consultation,” the press release states. “Many others, far too many to mention here, donated time, money, and services to support the clinic. The board members and the community are grateful for the outpouring of support for this project.”

They also thanked the local doctors, staff and community members who volunteered their time to run the clinics twice a month, including the following providers and their staffs: Dr. Jim Parker, Jacquie Parker PA-C, Dr. Alan Cohn, Lynn Linebarger FNP, Barbara Lewis FNP, Dr. Sam Williams, Dr. Ron Lagro, Jeanne Yalon-Owens FNP-C, Dr. Jack Saunders, Dennis Henrich PA, Dr Danny Drew, Dr. Steve Perlman, Dr. David Holst, and Dr. Shanhong Lu.