By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
For 16 years, the Greater Killeen Free Clinic has shared space with the Bell County Health Department on 2nd Street. With unprecedented demands placed upon the clinic in recent years, it is finally getting its own home.
"We've been given a huge grant from the City of Killeen for moving into the Killeen Arts and Activities Center," Executive Director Marlene DiLillo said. "It's a dream come true. We've been talking about it and planning for it for five years."
But the clinic, which provides acute care to the working poor, still needs to raise more than $100,000 on its own to make the move a reality.
It is holding a fundraiser at the Fish City Grill restaurant Tuesday in Harker Heights' Market Heights. All day, 15 percent of bill totals will go toward helping the clinic reach that goal. A cash donation box will also be available at the restaurant.
Every dollar counts in treating Killeen's growing community, DiLillo said. Due to lack of space and other factors, the clinic has to turn away about 200 people each quarter.
"That reflects two things," she said, "the growing population in our area, which, since 2000, has increased by 25 percent (and the economy)."
Due to the area's reputation for employment opportunities, she said, many workers from other states have come to the area to find a job. Others are being laid off or now find buying into health insurance for their family members prohibitively expensive.
The clinic isn't a hand-out, she said. "The free clinic serves the working poor."
In 2009, the clinic saw 3,314 patients, about 10 percent of whom were children. About 70 percent of patients are from Killeen, but some travel from as far away as surrounding counties.
Common ailments include urinary tract infections, colds, bronchitis and seasonal allergies.
But many clients also have chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. In its new, 3,100-square-foot home, the clinic will offer chronic care clinics two nights each week, in addition to its current two acute care clinics.
DiLillo hopes the new clinic will be open within 12 to 14 months.
The Free Clinic has a staff of 4.5 full-time employees, and relies on doctors to volunteer their services. Most of the 20 doctors who donate their time come straight from work at other medical facilities, she said.
Patients begin lining up outside the clinic early in the afternoon on Mondays and Thursdays. Doors open at 3:30 p.m., and patients are screened for eligibility. Their household income must be 200 percent or less of federal poverty levels, which are based on family size, and they must not be enrolled in or eligible for another insurance plan.
Free Clinic Board of Directors member Becky Sicket screens patients. At Thursday's clinic, 40 patients could be seen based on doctors' availability, she said.
"Hopefully we're not turning anyone away tonight," she said as patients streamed through the small back door into the screening room, where they took a number and waited.
Killeen resident Brenda Rowe, 47, stood against the wall as she passed the time. She had health insurance through her job as a truck driver, she said, but lost it after an accident left her injured and without work.
She has high blood pressure, she said.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have my medication," Rowe said. "I wouldn't know what a lot of people would do with no health care (without the clinic). A lot of people would be sick or dead if it wasn't for this facility."
The Greater Killeen Free Clinic is located at 309 N. 2nd Street in Killeen. For more information, call (254) 519-3898 go to gkfclinic.org. Fish City Grill is located at 201 E. U.S. Highway 190 in Harker Heights. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, call (254) 953-3474.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.