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Arlington Free Clinic Demand Continues To Grow

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Volunteer Marietha Mayen is one of the first faces patients at the Arlington Free Clinic see.
Jonathan Wilson
Volunteer Marietha Mayen is one of the first faces patients at the Arlington Free Clinic see.

By Jonathan Wilson

As the President and members of Congress get set to renew talks on health care legislation, the surge in demand at free health care clinics in our area continues.

Marietta Mayen is one of the first people patients at the Arlington Free Clinic see she's a volunteer who helps explain how appointments will work, often in Spanish. 60 percent of patients here are Hispanic, a group that is four times more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanics.

"Okay, thank you for the donations, gracias," Mayen says to two female patients who've slipped a few dollars into the donation jar.

The clinic moved into a larger, and newer office this past May, and the extra space is essential.

The clinic holds a lottery each month to fill the 20 new patient slots it keeps open. Executive Director Nancy Pallesen says 12 or 14 months ago, about 45 people would sign up for it.

"It's now up to 150 people a month are coming for those same 20 spaces, and it's every month," says Pallesen.

Sheila Ryan is the clinic's Director of Clinical Services. She's been here for six years, and is happy with the sparkling new office space, but she says watching this place grow is bittersweet.

"I would hope that as we grow we give better care, but I don't think its necessarily a good thing that more and more patients are turned away and we have to ask ourselves how we can serve more," says Ryan.

The Arlington Free Clinic currently serves more than 1600 patients a year.

Nancy Pallesen, the executive director of the Arlington Free Clinic, is also a member of WAMU's Community Council.

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