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Continuous Care/Free Clinic Gets New Direction

by Nathan Oravec

“There are going to be big changes in the coming year,” says Christina Rudden of Hagerstown’s Community Free Clinic.

Rudden, who joined the Clinic as its new Executive Director last month, says she had been looking for a new direction in her own career when she discovered an ad for the position. The hiring process was a lengthy one, she explains, from her applying for the job in the summer to being interviewed by the Clinic’s Executive Board to her first day on the job September 2. An individual with extensive experience in the nonprofit arena - serving her sixth season on the Board of Directors with the Frederick Orchestra - she was honored, and eager, to accept the role. “It marries my love for non-profits with my experience in business and health care,” she says.

The Clinic itself, Rudden notes, which has long served Hagerstown’s medically uninsured through the diligence and commitment of hard-working volunteers, is moving in an entirely new direction. “There is change happening. We’re taking a fresh new approach.”

“The clinic, financially, is not as stable as it was this time last year,” she explains. “For a variety of reasons. Because of the shape of the economy, charity dollars are extremely hard to come by right now. Many of our regular donors, who were coming to us before - have now been forced to choose between the organizations they [contribute to], while grants have also become tougher to attain.”

At the same time, the clinic is constantly serving a larger population. “Our patient base is growing. To the point that we have plateaued,” she says. “We’re working with limited space and using every inch we have available. We’re look ing to expand and grow.”

To this end, a bold initiative of fundraising and outreach programs has been planned, which will be placed into effect and enacted by recently established marketing and fundraising departments, two facets that Rudden describes as “completely new to this company.” In fact, six major fundraising events are in the works for the coming year, compared to the one annual event the Clinic has held in the past.

“We’re moving forward and instituting committees and volunteers to get involved with [the public.] We’ve had a great response from our volunteers - many of whom you will see out in the community telling people about what we do here. We’re looking at different ways of working within the community... taking a more active and positive approach to things. We just hope to take that momentum and run with it. “

In addition, two vacancies exist on the Clinic’s Executive Board - those of President and Secretary - which the organization hopes to fill with “involved, enthusiastic individuals.” Indeed, the Clinic, Rudden notes, “is evolving.”

That being said, the expert care with which patients have grown accustomed will continue. “The Clinic currently sees over 10,000 patient visits a year,” Rudden says. “That’s a big community to serve.”

To do this, it takes a team comprised of determined and vigilant citizens. “We have thirty-seven physicians who come here after a long day’s work to donate their time and services.” Additionally, over eighty non-professional volunteers contribute in a number of capacities, from clerical to managerial; and a network in advance of one hundred doctors make their offices available to Clinic patients - generally with specified needs.

Several specialty clinics - including orthopedic, mental health, podiatry, gynecological, and Medicare clinics, among others - are made regularly available. “We strive to provide continuous care,” she says. “That means a patient is going to see the same physician every time he or she returns. We really try to keep patients with the same doctor.”

Providing primary, preventative and quality care for its patients is the Clinic’s mission; many of whom, though employed full or part time, have no health insurance or are not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. “It’s the college student... who can no longer remain on his parents’ health plan - or the person working for a small business, who can’t afford the increasing costs of health insurance or has to make a choice between paying the bills and getting health insurance. When it comes down to paying the bills or paying for insurance - the bills are paid first. It’s a position we’ve all found ourselves in before.”

“These are people,” she says, “who are your neighbors. And we’re able to give them an option. It’s an amazing service.”

Before coming to the Community Free Clinic, Rudden says she felt unfulfilled in her work. “I wanted to be helping people,” she says. At her new job, she’s found fellowship with people sharing similar goals. “It’s just amazing going from a for-profit environment to a non-profit,” she continues. “Everybody who is here wants to be here, and because of that - you see an immediate result.”

“We make a difference in people’s lives - and it’s an amazing feeling when you go home at night. I think I can speak for everyone here in saying they feel the same way.”

Office hours for the Clinic are 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information on the Community Free Clinic, 18 West Franklin Street in Hagerstown, including Specialty Clinic schedules, call 301-733-9234 or e-mail

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