Moab Free Health Clinic team Allyson O'Connor, Danette Johnson and Noelle Hilner Tripp demonstrate free health clinics equipment [Travis Holtby/Moab Sun News]

Danette Johnson used to take health care for granted. Having been covered for most of her life, either through government programs in Canada or Central Europe, or through work, she didn’t think much about health insurance when she moved to Moab 17 years ago.

“I didn’t associate any cost with it, I had no health care for myself or my kid,” said Johnson, now the executive director of the Moab Free Health Clinic.

Then one day her family needed it. She, like 44 million other Americans, didn’t have any health insurance.

She ended up on Utah’s Primary Care Network (PNC), a state-run health program for low-income residents, but was kicked off when she exceeded the minimum income threshold of $17,000 by $125.

Now, through the Moab Free Health Clinic, she and her staff try to provide assistance for those in similar situations.

“We are another safety net provider, for those that other safety nets miss,” said Allyson O’Connor, the development director of the clinic.

Though the clinic does offer an increasing number of medical services in-house, they are also working to create a health resource guide. The guide is designed to give patients an inclusive list of the health-related providers, programs and services that are available to them in Moab area.

“We are a full service medical everything,” O’Connor said, “(Our goal) is to help you find where you can get your needs met. Maybe that’s here (at the clinic), maybe that’s somewhere else.”

The Moab Free Health Clinic began with a survey given by WabiSabi, a local non-profit thrift store. The survey asked customers, among other things, whether or not they had health care.

“Almost no one had any,” Johnson said.

There were also many non-profits opening in Moab at that time, this created an ideal climate to begin work on a free health clinic.

During this time Dr. Pat Scherer was also experimenting with using one day a week to provide free care for patients at his clinic. With the demonstrated need shown by the survey, Dr. Scherer was able to team up with Sarah Bauman and Johnson and in February of 2008 the Moab Free Health Clinic opened.

For the first two years, Moab Regional Hospital provided space for the clinic through a building it rented in town. Despite the lack of a clear organizational foundation, Johnson felt that if they had space available they should start seeing people, so they did. And while many patients were helped, there were also growing pains.

“In the beginning it was very grass roots, not much definition in what the clinic was or exactly who we served,” O’Connor said.

In the first two years, the lack of clear guidelines in who should be treated created a rift between the clinic and some of the doctors who volunteered their services. This was because “about 75 percent of the people we saw in the first few years really needed it, the other 25 percent didn’t,” Johnson said.

Johnson also pointed to the lack of communication with the hospital as one of the mistakes the clinic made in its first two years.

“We never took the time to build a relationship with the hospital, to tell them what we were about,” she said.

In March of 2010 the clinic moved into its current space, on 350 S. and 400 E., across the street from Milt’s Stop and Eat and WabiSabi’s Thriftique. The administration of the clinic had learned from the first few years and set about laying down the institutional framework that they had previously lacked.

During this time the funding for the Moab Free Health Clinic increased.

Though the majority of their funding still comes from WabiSabi, the clinic has received grants from businesses such as Rocky Mountain Power, Synergy and Foot Prints.

Patients are also encouraged to contribute towards their treatment.

“We ask every patient for a small donation, whatever they can pay. If they can’t pay anything that’s OK, but we have a suggested $15 minimum donation,” O’Connor said. Around half of the clinic’s funding comes from businesses, the other half from foundations, individuals and government grants.

The increase in funding has allowed the clinic to switch to having a full-time, paid staff, rather than relying solely on volunteers. They have also hired a program coordinator, Noelle Hilmer Tripp, through Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a government program which provides volunteers with a living stipend. Though the permanent staff has helped, the clinic still does not have enough manpower to follow up on all of the ideas that they have been approached with.

Much of what the Moab Free Health Clinic provides is consultations. These are designed to make sure users are aware of all of the services and programs available to them, both for patients with insurance and for those without.

“Lots of people come into town and we are the first (medical) place they come. We point them in the direction they need to go. We act as a community resource,” Tripp said.

The clinic is now open every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for consultations, with physician appointments also available at specific times.

Moab Free Health Clinic now offers a number of other services. A pediatric clinic, the only one in Moab, run by Dr. Joe Roberts will soon start offering regular hours. Women’s health clinics are also offered, as are testing, screening and vaccination clinics.

Antje Rath, a licensed professional councilor, is currently doing an 8-week course on mindful parenting. She also volunteers as a mental health councilor at the clinic.

Many of the Moab Free Health Clinic’s patients feel that it is a valuable resource.

“I knew I had strep throat but I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor,” said Renae Eddy, a patient of the clinic.

Eddy’s mother also came to the clinic when she could not get in to see her normal doctor. “It’s a great service to have for the community,” Eddy said.

Johnson believes that the clinic is not taking business away from other health care providers in Moab.

“We send far more business out than we take in,” she said. Through referring patients out to other providers, Moab Free Health Clinic hopes to build partnerships within the community. They hope that by referring patients out to physicians, those practitioners will come and volunteer at the free health clinic.

“We are always looking for more volunteers,” Johnson said.

The clinic is also in the process of looking for a larger health care organization to partner with, which will allow them to expand their services.