Archive photo of Pediatrician Dr. Joe Roberts examining a teen at the Moab Free Health Clinic.  [Photo by Janet Buckingham / Moab Sun News]

The Moab Free Health Clinic is expected to serve 10% of Grand County’s population by the end of 2021, or around 900 patients. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health clinic’s services are expanding as demand increases.

“Throughout the pandemic, we never closed our doors,” said Doug Caylor, executive director at the clinic. “We’ve been making ourselves available for the needs of the community and doing what we can to plug into those needs and help, and that’s kept us on the forefront of everybody’s minds.”

The Moab Free Health Clinic is a nonprofit that offers medical care for people who are uninsured, underinsured, and/or at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, which for an individual, is defined by an annual salary of $25,760. They consider themselves a “safety net clinic,” according to their website, and have a full-time staff of six people—the clinic relies on volunteer medical providers to staff the clinic.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.2% of the Grand County population lives in poverty, and 16.4% of the population under age 65 doesn’t have health insurance.

In 2020, the clinic served 601 patients with 1,328 appointments, and in the first six months of 2021, served 541 patients with 1,057 appointments. They offer services including primary care visits, mental health, STI treatment/testing, lab testing, dermatology, and women’s health. All provider visits are completely free, with a suggested donation of $15. Mental health counseling has a suggested donation of $5. Certain clinic services, such as HIV/STI testing clinics and diabetes and insulin testing clinics are available to everyone, regardless of health insurance status.

When the pandemic really picked up speed in March 2020, the free health clinic was quick to switch over to telehealth and remain open to the community. They’ve made themselves available from the beginning to support the medical system in Moab, Caylor said.

At that time, the clinic was already planning to expand—one of the new programs is a dental program, which was in the works in early 2020 and is currently in its pilot stages.

“We certainly had to make sure we did everything safely, but we weren’t about to let [the pandemic] say that we can’t expand,” Caylor said.

In the past year, the clinic has established a mental health program with bilingual providers, expanded the vision clinics to encompass both children and adult eye care needs, and created a telehealth specialty vision program to address eye disease in diabetic patients.

The clinic is “bursting at the seams,” Caylor said. Some days, staff members have to switch around offices, and the clinic is having trouble finding hotel rooms for volunteer providers. The clinic simply needs more space, Caylor said, and they’re planning on creating a new building in 2022 which will include modest living accommodations for visiting medical providers. The plans for the building are completed, and now, the clinic is working on getting permits.

Their upcoming goals within their services are to increase the number of utilized services per patient to at least three on average, increase the number of clinics per week, and increase the volunteer base by 25%.

“I’m proud overall that we’re actually providing free service to people that can’t afford typical medical care,” Caylor said. “And we’ve just not let any barriers get in the way.”