Less than six months after its board members started identifying needs in Howard County, Horizon Foundation awarded its first major health care grant yesterday: $264,000 to a free clinic staffed by physicians who volunteer their time.
The two-year, $264,000 grant will allow the Columbia-based Health Alliance for Patients in Need (HAPIN) to meet a growing need for free or reduced-cost health care services in the county. The clinic has more than 50 eligible clients on a waiting list.
"It's great to see the community is really behind the needs of those who don't have health coverage," said Hillery Scavo, HAPIN board chairwoman. "This is good news."
Some of the approximately 30 people present when the announcement was made at a news conference yesterday morning at the HAPIN clinic in Columbia were stunned by the size of the grant.
Scavo said she was hoping for $50,000 to keep the clinic going -- certainly not five times that.
Founded in 1994, the clinic provides health care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay. About 150 physicians have donated their services over the years. A year ago, HAPIN opened a free evening clinic on Cedar Lane in a building donated by Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The grant will help in the diagnosis and treatment of 400 to 600 patients. It also will be used to hire a full-time administrative coordinator, establish an emergency fund for required pharmaceuticals that cannot be donated, expand the clinic's evening coverage from one night to two nights a week, and develop a marketing and fund-raising plan.
Scavo said many of the clinic's clients are Howard County's "working poor" -- people who have jobs but can't afford health insurance.
"Nobody wants to be sick who's here," she said. "Nobody is here by choice. We have so many people who have no choice."
Horizon Foundation, founded last year as a result of a merger between Howard County General Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine, is one of the largest foundations in the Baltimore area, and is devoted to improving the health of Howard residents. The union provided the foundation with an endowment of more than $60 million.
Richard G. McCauley, chairman of Horizon's board of directors, said the panel will be awarding more grants next month. The total given this year will be more than $1 million.
Also yesterday, foundation officials announced 13 smaller grants to local nonprofit groups dealing with issues ranging from teen pregnancy prevention to senior weight training.
The grants include $20,000 to the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, $15,000 of which will go toward teen pregnancy prevention activities. The county's Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network (FIRN) will receive $15,000 to initiate a health-screening program for low-income immigrants, while The Domestic Violence Center will receive $10,500 to develop a handbook for local health care providers and a Web site. First Presbyterian Church of Columbia will receive $18,000 to establish a parish nurse program, and Howard County General Hospital will receive $15,000 to expand its senior weight training program.
Dr. Gary Milles, who founded HAPIN five years ago, said the foundation grant will ensure that the clinic survives. "It should help shore up the foundation a little bit," he said. "We were working on nothing."
But Milles said he feels there's still a lot of work to be done. He said he and others are hoping to change laws in Maryland to make it easier for retired physicians to serve in free clinics like HAPIN without fear of being sued for malpractice.
"If we can recruit some of our retired physicians, who are some of the best anyway, that will take us a long way," he said.