Nanjemoy Health Clinic Gets Funding Reprieve

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

The imperiled Nanjemoy health clinic has been awarded a grant under the federal stimulus package that will help keep it open, at least in the short run.

The clinic, operated by Greater Baden Medical Services, is one of 1,128 health centers nationwide that has received money through a grant program funded by the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last month.

Greater Baden, which runs seven clinics in Prince George's, Charles and St. Mary's counties, will receive $270,000 in federal money, its director said Monday.

Nanjemoy Health Service, operated out of the county-owned community center, serves about 750 of Charles County's poorest residents, many of whom have no insurance. It is the only health clinic in the rural southwestern part of the county. For most residents, the next closest one is in La Plata, about 15 miles away.

Greater Baden officials had said in February that the Nanjemoy clinic would close in a few months without new sources of funding.

"Greater Baden Medical Services has provided critical health care to individuals and families throughout our area for nearly three decades," U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Southern Maryland) said in a statement. "This grant will enhance the clinic's ability to continue that service and better attend to the health needs of those who might not otherwise get the care they require."

But for Nanjemoy residents, the news is not all good. The clinic must still move to a more central spot in Charles to stay financially viable, program director Rachel Smith said.

"Part of the grant is that we must make the clinic sustainable, and we can't do that without moving to a more populated area," Smith said. "We plan to retain the jobs at Nanjemoy until we find a more suitable facility."

Clinic administrators are exploring the possibility of moving to a vacant space in the county's social services building in La Plata. Although the grant will cover staff salaries for two years, Smith said, the Nanjemoy facility will probably close sooner than that. The clinic has lost about $150,000 a year since it opened in 1995, executive director Sarah Leonhard said.

Moving the clinic would deal a serious blow to Nanjemoy residents, including many who have neither cars nor phones. The county's bus service, VanGo, recently scaled back its service to Nanjemoy.

"If you move the clinic, most folks won't have the ability to get to the new one, or if they do, they'll take an ambulance, which is much more expensive," said Rick Campbell, a Nanjemoy resident and clinic patient who has pushed to keep the clinic there.

"There are so many more underlying issues about poverty and transportation that are hurting the community," he said.

Still, the grant is a victory for Greater Baden, which hopes to expand services at its profitable clinics while finding a way to sustain a facility in Charles.

"We still have to make a move, but this allows us to retain the jobs," Smith said. "We do plan to keep serving Charles County."

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