As the community grows, the need for health care increases, according to local health officials.
The Elizabethtown Community Health Clinic has been trying to fill the void for people in financial difficulty and has been doing so to the best of its ability for two decades, said executive director Venus Cornette.
From the start, the clinic has focused on uninsured adults, whose household income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, Cornette said.
Patients are also currently insured by Medicaid, but the clinic could help patients enroll in the program.
“We’re seeing patients who don’t make enough money for health care, but maybe a little too much to get Medicaid,” said Dave Peterson, board member and licensed pharmacist.
Peterson said discussion about a clinic started among local doctors with the creation of a sample prescription survey to support people who couldn’t afford it.
Board member Dr William Handley said the clinic was envisioned by nurses and other hospital staff. One had a relative who attended a free clinic in Hopkinsville and was interested in starting something locally.
Planning for the clinic began in 2000 with the creation of a steering committee, of which Peterson and Handley were part. In April 2002, the clinic opened in a rented office building with a few rooms to be used for patients. It then moved to a building on Memorial Drive and five years ago moved to its current location at 1113 Woodland Drive.
Peterson said he saw about 15 patients the first night the clinic opened. He said he had to go to Bowling Green that day to pick up excess supplies from a clinic.
When the clinic started, Peterson said health care providers sometimes volunteered every night when they were open two nights a week, with up to 40 patients seen each night.
“It was not uncommon to fill 250 prescriptions a night,” he said. “And it was volunteer staff, who had already worked a full eight-hour or 10-hour shift.”
Handley said shortly after opening, they realized they needed to hire a full-time manager and staff members.
While beginning in Hardin County, the clinic’s service area has expanded to Grayson, Breckinridge, Meade, and LaRue counties.
Over the past 12 years, Cornette said the clinic has provided patients with about $36 million worth of prescriptions for free. She said the clinic receives around 2,000 visits each year, with around 700 to 800 patients.
The clinic has also grown in staff, growing from volunteers to one full-time employee, a few part-time employees, and several volunteers. Volunteers include doctors and other professionals, as well as high school and college medical trainees.
Cornette said the biggest challenge for the clinic is finding volunteer doctors with specific specialties.
The clinic operates strictly on donations and grants, which can be stressful, Cornette said.
“We still have great support, but it’s always on our minds,” she said.
Handley said the clinic also had financial problems and was on the road to failure in 2011 because the clinic was buying a lot of generic drugs. This method has been changed and the clinic is now in a better financial position.
Clinic services include prescriptions, basic health care, chronic disease management, and women and health counselling.
Cornette said they are trying to keep expanding their services.
The clinic is focused on expanding their dentistry, psychiatry and free mammograms across the hospital, she said. In June, a psychiatrist will also volunteer at the clinic.
Three dental chairs are scheduled to open to patients in June with volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants.
Cornette also said she would like to visit more local businesses in order to introduce the clinic to those who may need it.
She said Baptist Health Hardin often works with the clinic. They refer patients from the hospital who would qualify for the clinic and also provide free MRIs to patients who are at the clinic. The hospital also leases the clinic’s current office building to them for $1 a year.
On Monday, the clinic is hosting a Facebook Live event at 12:15 p.m. where they will take a walk through the facility. This summer, Cornette also said they would return with their fundraising dinner, which had already been canceled due to the pandemic.