Free clinic gets new home

The nonprofit Matthews Free Medical Clinic will more than double its space by early spring.

Matthews town commissioners voted Monday, Nov. 12, to approve a 10-year lease that will allow the nonprofit to operate out of the former Bradford Clinic building at 196 S. Trade St. The nonprofit plans to move in March 2013 and open to patients on April 1.

“We are excited because this is a whole new stage for the clinic and Union and Mecklenburg County patients in need, so we’re excited about being able to expand our services and provide assistance to people in the community,” Amy Carr, the free clinic’s executive director, said. “We’re just grateful and so excited.”

The nonprofit will pay $4.50 per square foot each month and $165,145 to cover renovations to the building. Of the money put toward the renovations, $143,105 can be used as credit in the lease, according to George Fossett, a contractor with The Construction Institute.

The town will be responsible for covering capital needs exceeding $2,500 as well as the costs of hiring a construction manager to oversee the renovations.

Commissioners delayed approving the lease last month when it was brought up that the town might need the building as an early voting site for two weeks during the 2016 and 2020
presidential elections. The town and the free clinic agreed the town has the authority to consider the clinic as an option for an early voting site during the two elections. They also agreed the clinic will be allowed to operate as usual during that period.

However, Mayor Jim Taylor doesn’t anticipate needing to use the clinic as an early voting site.

“I really do think this is not going to be an issue in four years or eight years, but … my point the entire time was to protect the town,” he said.

“It is unlikely that early voting will be feasible at that location in the future under those conditions and with the building changes,” Assistant Town Manager Jamie Justice said in a memo to commissioners. “Therefore, the town should work with the Board of Elections to find other suitable options for the next presidential election.”

Since the recession hit, the free clinic – which provides free medical care to uninsured individuals in the area – has seen a dramatic increase in patients.

From 2008 to 2011, the number of patients treated grew from about 1,400 annually to more than 3,000 annually, and the clinic – currently operating out of a house at 113 N. Ames St. of about 1,400 square feet – simply doesn’t have the space to accommodate such exponential growth.

The nonprofit began looking for a new space earlier this year following an $80,000 expansion grant it received from Presbyterian Hospital Matthews and Matthews-based Elevation Church. In March, the nonprofit Matthews HELP Center purchased the .46 acres where the clinic is currently located for $150,000, giving the free clinic 18 months to find a new home.

The new building – about 3,200 square feet of usable space – will increase the number of usable exam rooms from one to five, generate more counseling and office space and allow the clinic to expand its pharmacy, which is currently housed in a walk-in closet.

Looking ahead, Carr said the clinic plans to first expand its education program to offer classes and counseling, particularly to patients with diabetes.

“We want to increase the education that we provide to patients,” she said. “We want to empower patients, and right now with such space limitations, it doesn’t allow us to have extra rooms to meet in. That’s the first thing we want to expand upon.”

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