Lackey Free Clinic will more than double in size

More than 3,100 uninsured low-income patients took advantage of the diverse health services offered by the Lackey Free Clinic in Yorktown last year.

Started 17 years ago by Jim and Cooka Shaw, the clinic has grown from a one-night-a-week operation in borrowed space to five days a week in its own 4,100 square-foot building. It now offers care by 60 volunteer physicians and 10 dentists, who together provide more than $8.5 million worth of medical services, including prescriptions, each year.

But demand continues to grow. On Friday, the clinic will break ground on a $1.4 million expansion that will more than double its size to more than 10,000 square feet. The expansion will increase the number of examination rooms from four to 10, triple the space for dental care, and add education rooms and administrative offices. All but $200,000 has already been raised for the project.

"We're going to fill that building the day it opens," says Carol Sale, the clinic's new executive director, speaking over the rumble of a bulldozer clearing the adjoining land. It took more than two years to get the necessary permits for the expansion, and work started immediately the plans were approved. The expansion is scheduled for completion in nine months without any interruption of service.

The clinic draws from five localities, where approximately 60,000 residents qualify for its free care. The numbers of those using the clinic have grown exponentially — 25 percent annually until physical limitations capped it at 10 percent in 2011, according to Jim Shaw. He cites one month when there were 860 callers and the clinic was only able to accommodate 100. Last year it added 700 new patients to its rolls. Most are working but unable to afford insurance, and fully 70 percent are living in extreme poverty, below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Increasingly, the clinic's patients are those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, whose health requires constant monitoring, rather than those with one-time illnesses, such as colds and flu. "They're the sickest of the sick," says Shaw.

He notes that for each dollar donated, the clinic can leverage almost $7 in services through providing skilled medical care, free or discounted prescriptions, and X-ray and lab services. He credits the Lackey Clinic's success in preventing expensive emergency room visits with forging an excellent working relationship with the area's three health-care systems. Through the Project Care partnership, the latter provide free labs, screenings and emergency surgeries for the clinic's patients. It's the job of the medical director, Shaw says, to determine those needs and not overburden the system with unnecessary tests.

Ralph Robertson, the incoming medical director, has volunteered at the clinic for 10 years. An emergency room physician, he will continue to work one shift a week at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, where he has been medical director since 2008. "Our goal is to have as few as possible showing up in the ER," he says.

Shaw, formerly with Riverside, reports a 60 percent drop in clinic patient visits to its emergency room and a corresponding 39 percent improvement in costs since making a 2008 agreement. "The clinic is a safe haven," adds Sale, formerly systems director for patient safety with Sentara. "It's great to see the competitive edge [between the health systems] disappear. It's a value to the community."

Perhaps the most excited about the expansion is board chairman Bill Griffin, a Newport News dentist who runs the dental program. The current wait for dental care, other than emergencies, is three to four months, he says. With two additional dental rooms, and the possibility of another two, he'll be able to reduce the wait time and start recruiting more volunteer dentists again. He's also hoping to add lab-based services to the existing routine care offered.

In all, almost 330 volunteers donate their time at the clinic each year, inspired by its faith-based practice. "We're not preachy," says Shaw. "We transmit the love of Jesus in the New Testament through our actions. We renew their [patients] dignity lost through being indigent."

Lackey Free Clinic

Groundbreaking for the expansion is at 2 p.m. Friday, May 18, at 1620 Old Williamsburg Road, Yorktown.

Uninsured residents of Newport News, Williamsburg, Poquoson, James City and York counties, whose income falls at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, are eligible for care at the clinic. It offers chronic care clinics, walk-in clinics and specialty clinics, including ENT, gynecology, rheumatology, pediatrics, neurology, nephrology and wound care. It also offers dental and mental health services.

For information, or to donate, go to http://www.lackeyfreeclinic.com or call 757-886-0608.