BRATTLEBORO — After closing its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brattleboro Walk-In Clinic at 191 Clark Ave. will soon be seeing patients again in-person, and in its own building.
“Dr. Tortolani will be here every week with another provider to get it going again,” said Jeanne Seymour, the clinic’s coordinator and only paid employee.
For the past three years, the clinic had been using the offices of urologist John Daley.
“Dr. Daley very graciously let us rent his medical office,” said Adrian Segar, the vice president of the clinic’s board, who described the facility as “stunningly beautiful.”
On Sept. 30, the board bought the property from Daly.
“This allows us to concentrate on what we do and not worry about losing the space,” said Segar. “We are excited. This is the first time in our history we’ve ever had our own place.”
“I believe in the work that the Walk-In Clinic is doing,” Daly wrote in an email to the Reformer. “This is medicine practiced with joy and love without regard to financial gain. The Walk-In Clinic board members are people of integrity and high quality whose desire is to truly serve the needs of our community.”
The clinic was founded in 1993 by Dr. Tom Evans and a group of concerned community members to provide primary medical treatment to people 18 to 64 years old. In all that time, Dr. Bob Tortolani, now a retired family physician, has been connected to the clinic.
Tortolani, who is 80, also teaches a couple of days a month at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
He said he is happy to keep hours at the clinic once a week, but he can’t do it by himself.
“We can’t exist without volunteers,” he said. “There have been numerous people, so many people, from the area who have donated their time over the last 22 years.”
In addition to Tortolani, physicians, nurses and administrators have volunteered to work one Tuesday a month, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
“We have been so lucky,” said Seymour, who manages the rotating schedule of the physicians as well as the volunteer nurses who attend to, at least prior to the pandemic, about 300 people a year.
Seymour, who’s been with the clinic for 22 years, said until they had to close for the pandemic, they had been seeing seven to eight people every Tuesday.
“It’s basically walk in, but we have to cap the number of people we see,” she said. “It’s first come, first served because our volunteers have already worked all day. When they work all day, we don’t want to ask too much.”
Seymour said some of the clinic’s patients have high deductibles on the health insurance policies and can’t afford the co-pays. Many of the patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, or need help getting enrolled or with insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Services at the clinic include basic primary medical care, referrals, mental health care, prescriptions, physicals, workmen’s compensation or disability care, help with substance abuse, well child exams and immunizations, birth control, pregnancy tests, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Each visitor to the clinic gets about $140 in care, according to the clinic’s website.
“We do request that when possible, patients contribute toward their care by making a donation,” said Seymour.
The clinic, which provides its services on a shoestring, pays for its operations through fundraising. Its expenses are a little less than $50,000 a year and its revenues, mostly through donations, are just shy of $60,000, according to the 990 tax form it filed in 2019.
“The clinic has been around for a long time with a lot of fundraising and some wonderful donations from local community groups every year,” said Segar. “That is why we were able to buy this building.”
Segar said the Affordable Care Act made health care more accessible for many people, which means the clinic’s patient load has gone down since a decade ago.
“Which is good, but there’s still a need,” he said, adding “Like most nonprofits, we would love to be out of business. If we had health care that truly met everyone’s needs in this country, we wouldn’t be needed.”
Though he is eager to restart the clinic, Tortolani also recognizes the impact COVID has had on volunteers and people seeking care.
“We just don’t know what the demand is going to be,” he said. “How many of the patients who have come to us in the past have, since the clinic’s been closed, found other sources of care?”
And though he said safety is their No. 1 job right now, he understands that volunteers might not want to take on too much more risk at this time.
“People are rightfully uneasy,” he said.
“It’s hard to find volunteers because of COVID,” agreed Seymour, who advised people interested in helping out should send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tortolani thanked Dr. Evans for his continuing support over the years and the support of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Dr. Daly.
“BMH has always been very generous in the use of its facilities and Dr. Daly has been very good about letting us have access to the clinical use of his facility. It’s been a wonderful thing for the community.
If everything goes as planned, said Segar, the clinic will open on Nov. 9.
Donations can be made to the clinic by visiting www.brattleborowalkinclinic.org/supportus.