2015-07-02 / Front Page

Free clinic to close

Introduction of the Affordable Care Act will close Biddeford Free Clinic in fall
By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – After 22 years of providing health care to local residents, the Biddeford Free Clinic will shut its doors to patients this fall.

Dr. Francis J. Kleeman, who founded the clinic and is the organization’s president, said Sept. 30 will be the last day patients can meet with doctors.

“For the past year and a half, the number of patients we’ve been seeing has been going down, down, down, for several reasons,” Kleeman said. “Our numbers now are such that it doesn’t seem sensible to keep the clinic open for a relatively low number of people. So now our concern is to make sure the patients we have now, make sure they have health care.”

Kleeman said there are between 150 and 200 patients that will be affected. At its peak, the clinic saw five patients a night, three nights a week, and filled 30 to 50 prescriptions each night, Kleeman said. In time, the clinic scaled down and was open only two nights a week.

Now, Kleeman said, the clinic is open one night a week and serves five to six patients each night, and filling an average of 15 to 20 non-narcotic prescriptions.

Kleeman said the closure is a good thing because it means people now have access to health care.

“I’m happy about it for number of reasons,” Kleeman said. “I’m happy that we finally have a system (the Affordable Care Act) that may not be perfect, but does provide health care to most people in the country. Second, the clinic has done its work and done a very good job.

“And third, I’m getting old.”

Executive Director Joan Gordon said, “It’s very much bittersweet in the sense that the time has come for the clinic to close because of the reduced number of uninsured patients.”

Kleeman said most of the clinic’s patients will be referred to Southern Maine Health Care, which is now taking higher numbers of uninsured patients. Some of the Sanfordarea patients will be reallocated to Nasson Health Care in Springvale.

Kleeman said volunteers have been notifying patients about available options. Many of the clinic’s patients have become eligible for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act since it passed, and others have turned 65 and now qualify for Medicaid, he added.

“The fact that we were able to get so many people on the Affordable Care Act is a testament to our volunteers,” Gordon said. “Robin Bibber and Celyn Reed are the two navigators for York County Community Action who worked tirelessly with our patients, so the number of people who were able to get on the Affordable Care Act with insurance (was greater).”

Gordon said another volunteer, Michelle Fecteau, coordinated six volunteers who were second-year medical students to call more 300 patients and apprise them of their opportunities to obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

“So along the way, we had many volunteers who helped us accomplish this goal,” Gordon said. “The heart and soul of the Biddeford Free Clinic is mainly the volunteers. I don’t think the clinic could have survived if it didn’t have the dedication of people who worked so hard.”

In addition to the community volunteers and doctors and dentists who volunteered their time over the years, Kleeman said the clinic also owes its success to financial supporters and the city of Biddeford.

“It was a huge help for the city of Biddeford giving us that space for 22 years free of charge,” Kleeman said.

The clinic is housed in the city’s J. Richard Martin Community Center on Alfred Street.

Kleeman said that changes in health care will benefit patients because they will have a primary doctor they can see regularly, as opposed to meeting with whichever doctor happens to be volunteering.

Clinic patients come from all across York County, according to Kleeman, with the largest number from Biddeford. Many people from Arundel, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Saco and Sanford are also served.

Although the clinic will stop serving patients after Sept. 30, Kleeman said the two employees – Executive Director Joan Gordon and Information Technology Director Mel Cannella – will continue working for several months to tie up loose odds and ends.

When the Courier interviewed Kleeman about the clinic last year, he said the ultimate goal would be closing the doors because everyone would be insured and there would no need for the free services.

“Personally, it’s been an honor and a privilege to work with people and to see how very hard they have worked to improve their own health,” said Gordon. “I’m comfortable with the closing. I think the time has come for us to close.

“This has been a remarkable experience for me to have worked for Dr. Kleeman. He’s a champion and advocate for humanity. There isn’t anything he has asked of us that he wouldn’t do himself, but it’s time to move on and we’re grateful to have provided these services.”

“It is, indeed, a good thing,” Kleeman said of the clinic’s closure.

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