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Health clinic for needy scheduled to open in Westminster this month


Painters, electricians and physicians are putting the finishing touches on a Westminster office that will offer primary medical care to as many as 2,000 patients annually after it opens later this month.

The workers are among dozens of volunteers and professionals who have donated time and supplies to transform a vacant and cavernous 2,100- square-foot office above David's Jewelers, off East Main Street, into Access Carroll.

"This was an empty rectangle. We literally built it from scratch," said Dr. Robert Wack, a pediatrician at Carroll Hospital Center and a member of the Access Carroll committee.

Access Carroll, a new nonprofit group, signed a lease in July for the Locust Lane office. The group will provide non-urgent care by appointment only to those who are uninsured or under-insured. Patients will pay on a sliding scale, depending on income. Those who fall below a certain level would not have to pay.

Appointments sought

It is a service that Carroll County public health officials have said is a necessity in the growing county.

"People are already trying to make appointments," Wack said.

Carroll has a small mobile clinic operated by the Mission of Mercy at the county Health Department on South Center Street, but it has limited space and resources. The traveling clinic often treats as many as 100 people a day.

The county Health Department will donate the services of a nurse and a nurse practitioner to Access Carroll. Carroll Hospital Center will send the associate executive director of Carroll Hospice, Karen Feroli, to serve as director.

Support personnel

A registered nurse, Feroli has the expertise and the community networks to bring a variety of people to support Access Carroll and use its services.

Physicians will rotate on a volunteer basis and receive their credentials through the Health Department.

Some of them have started helping.

Wack has been at the new office several times. Recently, he brought his vacuum cleaner to the office to get rid of the dust before painters arrived.

He said the interior was renovated, with partitions dividing a loft-like space. He pointed out the waiting room, a children's play area, a reception area, a patient intake room, four examination rooms, a lab, a break room, a physician's office and Feroli's office.

Donated equipment

Most of the medical equipment and supplies, chairs and exam tables are being donated. The biggest expense for the office will be medication, although no narcotics will be kept on site.

Construction is also being done free.

"What I do is like putting makeup on a woman," said Mike Rose, owner of Westminster-based Rose Painting who has donated his time. "I'm here to give whatever I can ... if I can help somebody else, I will. We're only here one time. You just got to help people. That's what it's all about. We're not all fortunate."

Rose recently spent a day preparing the office for painting with a couple of his workers, using more than 20 gallons of primer. They will be back this week to apply two finish coats, using nearly 40 gallons in a variety of colors. If this were a private job, Rose said it would have cost $4,000.

"I think it's a great idea what the clinic does to try to take the load off the hospital for those who can't afford insurance," Rose said. "With the cost of malpractice insurance, for Dr. Wack and the other doctors to donate time to take the burden off of Carroll County General [now Carroll Hospital Center] is to me pretty honorable."

'Gradual ramp-up'

After it's painted, the office will need flooring, light switches and a computer system, Wack said. Equipment and furniture will be the last things moved into the space.

"We're looking for a gradual ramp-up," Wack said, explaining that at first, the office would operate only a few days a week. He said open houses are scheduled to familiarize the community with the facility.

Practical concerns - such as paying rent and utility bills - are foremost in organizers' minds, Wack said. With $10,000 left in the bank, organizers are trying to raise at least $40,000 to cover the first year of operating expenses.

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