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July 11, 2013

Free clinic serves 1,000th patient

The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Community Health Center treated its thousandth patient on Tuesday.

Located on 31 Main St., the Oneonta Community Health Center first opened in 2008. Originally based out of 22 Academy St., it moved to its location at 31 Main St. about two  years ago.

“It’s a beautiful clinic; it’s really lovely,” said registered nurse Barbara Sperlin, clinic coordinator for the Oneonta Community Health Center. “It just feels very homey and inviting to patients.”

The center provides free primary health care for low-income adults with no health insurance. To qualify for treatment, individuals must have no health insurance, and have an income of no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For a household of one, that means an income of $34,470 a year or below. For a household of four, that means an income of $70,650 a year or below. 

Because of the requirement that patients have no insurance, no one older than 64 is treated at the clinic, as they are covered by Medicare.

The health center is staffed by 15 local doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants who volunteer their services. The center’s medical director is Dr. Benjamin Friedell.

“All our doctors are actively working doctors,” said Ms. Sperling, adding that many often work a full day before coming in to volunteer.

The office is staffed and the facilities are cleaned by volunteers as well, and only Sperling and the clinic’s volunteer coordinator are paid. Sperling is paid for 10 hours a week, but puts in more time as a volunteer.

Ms. Sperling volunteered at the center for three years before taking her current position.

“I started (volunteering) the very first day it started,” said Ms. Sperling, who said she has been a registered nurse for about 30 years.

When asked about impact the clinic had had on the community, Sperling said she believed it had had an incredibly positive one, noting that it was entirely funded by local donors.

“It is totally supported financially by donations from the community,” said Sperling. “This shows ... we’re a special community.”

The health center is open Tuesday evenings, as well as the first Thursday every month for returning patients. Two providers are available to see patients during this time, and are assisted by one registered nurse.

“When we’re full we take 16 patients, 8 per provider,” said Sperling, who also noted that the clinic was often booked for two to three weeks.

All appointments at the center must be made in advance.

“It would be wonderful if we could be open two days a week,” said Sperling, who said that the clinic would do so if they had more providers.

In terms of the health care available at the clinic, providers examine patients and give them prescriptions. They also refer them to specialists, and inform them about the community service program offered by Basset and Fox Hospitals that provides services at no or reduced costs.

Two doctors also work with the center to provide eye exams and podiatry at no charge. Blood work and X-rays for center patients are done for free at A.O. Fox Hospital.

“Many of the people travel from an hour to an hour and a half (for treatmeant),” said Sperling, who also said that many of the center’s patients are working people unable to afford healthcare.

In terms of the future, Sperling said that the center is waiting to see what impact the Affordable Care Act will have on it.

The center will celebrate its fifth anniversary on July 29, and will host a fundraiser at Applebee’s on July 21. Anyone who brings in a voucher, which can be picked up at the Oneonta Community Health Center, will get 10 percent of their check donated to the center. Monetary donations can also be dropped off at or mailed to the center.

The clinic’s thousandth patient was a Jefferson man, was treated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

To schedule an appointment, call 433-0300.