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'So many people ... fall through the cracks'

  • Story Highlights
  • Doctor quit private practice, sold her house to open clinic for uninsured
  • Clinic is housed in restored Victorian-style rectory in old Pennsylvania steel town
  • Patients pay what they can, even if as little as a dollar or 50 cents
  • With help from volunteers, including doctors, clinic has reveived 40,000 patient visits
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PHOENIXVILLE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- After 22 years in private practice and seeing people "kicked around by the system," Dr. Lorna Stuart found herself frustrated with the number of insurance companies and the rules and restrictions that came with them.


Because there's no insurance paperwork, Dr. Lorna Stuart says she has more time to spend talking with patients.

"The day-to-day time that I spent on paperwork was increasing, while my patients weren't getting the good care that I wanted to give them -- face-to-face time, one-on-one time," she recalls. "I vowed to do whatever little I could about this inequity of care."

For Stuart, that vow came in the form of opening her own clinic and treating the uninsured.

"Every single person knows somebody without health insurance," says Stuart. "There are so many people that fall through the cracks."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 47 million Americans are currently without medical coverage. So Stuart set out to alleviate that problem where she could -- in her old steel town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

She confided her desire to start a clinic in the Rev. Marie Swayze, her friend whose parish property was home to a Victorian-style rectory that had become dilapidated from disuse.

The two concocted a plan to restore and remodel the mansion into a place that anyone would be happy to visit for quality medical care.

Then, leaving private practice, Stuart sold her house and set out to raise $400,000 in donated funds, materials and services. In 2002, these efforts resulted in "The Clinic: Medical Center for the Uninsured," a charitable, sun-filled clinic that has since received more than 40,000 patient visits.

Individuals receive free or low-cost primary medical care across eight specialties, regardless of income or locality. Video Watch Stuart explain how her healthcare dream came true »

"Since there's no need to spend a lot of time doing paperwork, we have time to talk to the patient and really hear what they're saying," says Stuart. "So the patients go away feeling they've been heard, that they've been helped."

An arsenal of more than 100 local volunteers, including 20 retired and practicing physicians, assist Stuart in providing expert medical services to more than 800 patients per month from across the southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware area.

She even invested in Spanish language audiotape lessons to better communicate with her Spanish-speaking clients. Patients are informed that each visit costs about $60, but they are only expected to contribute what they can toward their care. Video Watch Stuart explain the benefits of visiting "The Clinic" »

"Many patients pay as little as a dollar or even 50 cents for the same dignified care that patients contributing in full receive," says Mary Ellen Smith, The Clinic's medical resource coordinator.

Patient contributions account for 20 percent of The Clinic's $900,000 annual operating budget. The rest comes exclusively from private grants and donations. If The Clinic accepted money made available through government aid programs, they would be significantly restricted in terms of whom they would be allowed to treat, and how.


For Stuart, giving good old-fashioned care again has restored her sense of fulfillment. Video Watch Stuart explain how her clinic provides care to the uninsured »

"Each day, I get to treat the patients whom our medical system has forgotten, without the hassle of insurance paperwork," says Stuart. "Is it any wonder I once again feel the real joy of practicing the craft that I love?" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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