Thousands could soon face a closed door to some of their health care.
A Eunice Community Health Center official said last week that the clinic could be shut down within two months due to a lack of funding.
Glynn Michaud, president of the center’s Board of Directors, said that free prescription drugs and free preventive and primary health care for people in an eight-parish radius could soon be halted.
“If the clinic would perhaps close, the biggest impact would be an increase in emergency room visits by people that can’t pay,” he said, “which will then be an increase in cost to the taxpayer and our community is going to be hit with that immediately.”
Michaud said that the clinic is “perhaps the best-kept secret of our community”.
He said the clinic is a non-governmental, non-profit organization which receives funding through grants, corporations and fund-raising events.
“We need money now. I mean, my hat is off,” he said. “I’ll do anything for the clinic. I’ll ask anybody and I will go to bat anyway I can.”
Yancy Fontenot, center director, said that the clinic operates on about $7,000 a month.
“We serve over 4,000 people regularly but we had more than 28,000 client encounters, or visits, last year,” she said. “And we provided primary care to them with that money. The value we provided was over $312,000 worth of services.”
In prescription drugs alone, Fontenot said that in 2011 the clinic filled more than 13,000 prescriptions in their community pharmacy totaling over $18 million in value.
She said the clinic – which has a full-time staff – has had an impact on the community.
“Free clinic visits plus free pharmacy equals healthy working people in our area.” she said.
While there is no threat from recent state budget cuts and changes in Medicaid funding – which has signaled the phasing down of charity hospitals in Louisiana – the Eunice Community Health Center Clinic, Fontenot said, will feel a “ripple effect” from the cuts.
“Less state-funded hospitals will mean an increase in our clientele,” she said. “But we’re a non-profit. That’s means we may see the need for more money to sustain services. And that means we’ll need more fund raising.”
State Rep. Mickey Guillory said on Thursday that he had already begun the process of applying for state and federal grants for the clinic. He said research has shown that the clinic has served people from more than a dozen parishes, as well as Texas, Florida and Georgia residents in the past.
“This clinic is serving people from all over the state and even people from out of the state come here. So, several states and a lot parishes – that weren’t in the original service area that it was designed for – has led us to try and notify some of the legislators from those areas that have used this facility to help the clinic because now the clinic doesn’t have a source of revenue.”
Guillory said that his office has contacted Congressman Charles Boustany’s office in Lafayette for support and research into federal grants that may be available for the clinic.
But the money may not come soon enough.
Willie Bergeron, treasurer of the center Board of Directors, said the “noose is tight, but our tongue is not sticking out yet”. He said that time is of the essence.
“Last year we got money from the train derailment settlement, a few years back,” he said. “Before that, we were strapped for cash like we are now. We only have a couple of fundraisers a year and the rest comes from private donations or $15 administrative fees that we charge our patients– who can afford it. That fee covers everything including lab work.”
Bergeron said that in 2009 the clinic reported 11,825 “client encounters”. In 2010, that number jumped to 18,110 “client encounters” before showing a surge to 28,998 reported in 2011.
One member of the clinic staff at Eunice Community Health Center is a two-year, full-time volunteer.
Kitty Cormier, 62, of Eunice, said is a retired school teacher who initially signed on because the clinic, she believed, saved her elderly mother’s life.
“My mother was on a medication and Medicare would not pay for certain prescription drugs that she needed. The drugs cost about $3,000 a month. And thanks to this clinic, my mother is still able to get those drugs today for no cost.”
Cormier likened her two-year stint as a volunteer at the clinic to her former career as a teacher.
“It can get a little hectic around here at times,” she said. “But it’s very rewarding, and it would be a sad thing to see this clinic shut down.”