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Iowa City health clinic celebrates 50 years of services during a pandemic

Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 5:54 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Not much has stayed constant during the pandemic, but the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic has continued to provide people with health and dental care. This year it celebrates its 50th year.

The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic is a non-profit organization, which tries to eliminate barriers to health care by offering services without cost. It was established in 1971. It also encourages the participation of patients in their own care and said it offers services that are non-judgmental and confidential.

Those services include dermatology, ophthalmology, postpartum care, prenatal care, blood draws, filling prescriptions, HIV testing, Hepatitis C testing, counseling services for diabetic diets and more.

From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic
From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic(From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic)

Dr. Cecila Norris, who is the medical director for the clinic, said she first hear about the clinic when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa.

She said she came back because she loves its’ mission.

“Pretty much every day in clinic, somebody tells me how grateful they are that this health clinic exists and that they will not be able to obtain the healthcare that we provide here if this clinic was not here,” Dr. Norris said.

She said the best part is when a patient creates a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

“Probably the biggest ones are the ones that you think they are never going to make these changes that they need to do for their health to improve and then something finally clicks and they lose the weight, they stop smoking, they decrease the salt in their diet and they feel so much better.,” Dr. Norris said. “I get those things every week at least.”

She said a lot of their work involves education in the clinic.

“Doctor actually means teacher,” Dr. Norris said. “And so a big part of medicine is trying to educate patients as to what their disease process is, what the treatment options are and what’s best for them. And I really feel like I have that opportunity here in this clinic because we can take the time to talk to patients.”

She said one of the biggest challenges the clinic normally faces are language and culture barriers. But, the pandemic has provided even more challenges than normal.

“We had to close down a lot of our volunteer-run clinics because there were first of all too many people, we couldn’t make sure everybody was informed in safety issues that were necessary and we found that it was just easier too,” she said.

Ironically, it’s celebrating during a pandemic. Dr. Norris said the toughest part is that it’s seeing fewer patients than normal, but she’s proud of the way they’ve adapted.

The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic
The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic(The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic)

“The toughest part is that we’ve had to decrease the number of patients that we can see safely because, really, for the containing this pandemic being able to social distance is really hard in a clinic this size,” she said. “And so this waiting room, where we are right now, frequently would be packed with patients before COVID. And now we need to make sure they were six feet apart even if they are wearing masks to decrease the transmission”

Barbara Vinograde, who is the executive director for the clinic, agreed the pandemic has been tough for the clinic. The clinic saw about 100 people a week before COVID-19 hit and has been building back to that number.

“This last year with the pandemic really was a rough one, it was rough,” she said.

Vinograde said it’s created a lot of changes.

“We had to revise our service delivery,” she said. “And it was really tough, one of the toughest parts was that we weren’t able to serve as many people.”

The clinic’s mission is personal for her because she once didn’t have health insurance either. But, Vinograde said times are getting better with the increase of vaccines.

“We work with over 200 volunteers here, so we had to really cut back on the number of people who can come in for quite a while,” she said. “They are starting to come back now and our services are not back to normal yet. But we are getting there.”

From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic
From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic(From The Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic)

Normal is coming soon, but soon there will be a new executive director.

Vinograde has worked at the clinic for 28 years and plans to retire soon. Meaning when the clinic’s 50th celebration ends, another celebration is coming.

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