Reactions to Free Clinic Decision

Jeremy Aldrich -- June 20th, 2008

I talked to several people about the decision to eliminate Free Clinic services for undocumented patients. Here are some of the responses:

Sandy Hodge, Free Clinic Board President: “It was a very difficult decision. We discussed it for a good six months and felt like in order to be able to continue to grow with the free clinic we were going to have to make this decision, but it wasn’t one that had complete support of the board. We really had just started asking for Social Security numbers at the beginning of June. We only do that when people come in for eligibility and we renew the eligibility every six months. There are a lot of mixed feelings on this.”

Sylvia Whitney, immigrant advocate and employee of Office on Children and Youth/New Bridges: “We were pretty disappointed, a lot of our clients do rely on it. We’ve heard from a lot of our clients already. It is on the agenda for the Hispanic Services Council. Things like this affect the emotional state of people, kind of like when people hear about a raid. In all honesty what it will do is kind of defeat the purpose because people will end up in the emergency room which is more costly. In my opinion it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Dr. Andrew Blay, Cooks Creek Clinic: “The free clinic in general takes care of chronic care, meaning that most of the patients they see have chronic illness and need frequent checkups accompanied by drug refills. Most of the time they’re not geared towards acute illness, and that’s the part we do. Probably the majority of the patients we see are uninsured. We don’t see the patients the free clinic does for the reasons they do. We would not be able to provide that [chronic] care. I’ve communicated with them on numerous occasions on what our role is in the community…

The Community Health Center [which was suggested as an alternative for current free clinic patients – ed.] opened under a federal grant. The primary reason for initiating the clinic here was Medicaid children and most physicians are not seeing new Medicaid children. Because they are federally funded they cannot turn anybody down. They’re sliding scale, based on proven personal income. There’s no proof of legal residency required. [But] it’s going to cost more to the patient. [The Community Health Center doesn’t] have a pharmacy so the patients will have to pay for [drugs which were available free at the free clinic]. I think it’s going to be a huge problem but as far as it impacts us we already see [the same patients who see them for chronic care but who need the acute care we provide].

It’s kind of a shame that there’s some people out there that can’t get the care they need and legal documentation gets in the way. I’m a Canadian citizen…as a physician, I think it’s a shame that that gets in the way of someone who is not feeling well.”

Ronald E. Wyrick, pastor of First Church of the Brethren and Free Clinic board member: “The decision was a painful one for us as a board and not taken lightly. There was concern for the continued availability of services to as many people as we could serve and an awareness that the resources we have are not unlimited, they are limited. Therefore we can regrettably only serve a limited number of people. I can tell you I was just riveted by the discussion. It was a discussion that was filled with pathos. Obviously folks are caught up in the political views that have really put immigrants who have not gone through all the legal processes in a very negative light. The decision, in the end, I could affirm because I felt like we moved away from that political discussion and made a decision that yeah, admittedly, the prevailing outlook of the day had an impact. But the bottom line became how do you serve the most people and retain a compact that you have with the folks that are providing services, the folks that volunteer? Free clinic really depends on the community, the financial resources in the community, and every bit as much the volunteers in the community. I hesitate to contribute to an ongoing airing. We’ve made our decision and have to move on…

The action of the board is in some respects a confidential action and that gives you the freedom to talk openly. I hope my words don’t imply that I’m trying to give a narrative, but a personal response. We had a [sub]committee that took a look at the facts and figures and gave a recommendation.”

45 Responses to “Reactions to Free Clinic Decision”

  1. finnegan says:


    Good input from several different sources.

    Judging from the board members’ comments, it doesn’t sound like this was a unanimous decision.

  2. Dave Briggman says:

    My only question to Ms. Hodge, is:

    How are you verifying that the person presenting you with a 9-digit number, presumably the SSN, is the actual person to whom that number was assigned?

  3. John says:

    I think Mr. Sider was pretty clear about that…

    “Sider says they do not have resources to determine whether documents presented are valid or not”

  4. DebSF says:

    This comment, from Pastor Wyrick was especially interesting:

    “But the bottom line became how do you serve the most people and retain a compact that you have with the folks that are providing services, the folks that volunteer?”

    It almost sounds like the board came under pressure from the doctors and/or the volunteers who work in the clinic to implement this new policy, rather than from donors, the city, or the community. What kind of pressure could they bring to bear? Keep out the illegals or we won’t work for the clinic?

    Compassion’s on life support. Sad.

  5. seth says:

    it strikes me as pretty appropriate that the boots on the ground would be the ones pointing out problems and advocating action. you can paint the volunteers who make the free clinic run as xenophobic and selfish but i think we both realize that this is far from accurate. there are real issues here. we should discuss them and try to find the solutions that are most beneficial to everyone rather than devoting our time to criticizing decisions we obviously haven’t taken the time to understand.

  6. JGFitzgerald says:

    Listen to the combat boots or jackboots on the ground. Don’t bother to think for yourself. Good idea.

  7. Deb SF says:

    Thank you, Seth, for explaining to me how I haven’t taken the time to understand this issue. I’ve know this was coming for three months, know why it happened from some of the people who tried to keep it from happening.

    Perhaps you have something more useful to offer to the discussion than writing about that which you do not know.

  8. David Miller says:

    My interest lies in the fact that as a community we have decided that health care is important. We have decided that health care for everyone is important. As a community we have discovered that IT IS ALRIGHT TO CARE FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR. We have learned that a healthy community is best. Yet as a nation we have decided to let political strife divide us and let us become the inhuman tools of one party or another.

  9. Seth says:

    i know the volunteers at the free clinic are good folks and it’s wrong to vaguely (or not so vaguely) attribute dubious motives to them with practically no verification.

    that’s what i know.

    i’d be interested to hear someone with your wealth of knowledge pose some intelligent speculation as to why they may have felt that the free clinic was not a workable health care solution for for the illegal/undocumented individuals in our community.

    these people need medical care. we’re going to have to work together to figure out the best way to provide it. laying blame on the free clinic because their board has decided that they are not/cannot be the best way does nothing to move in that direction.

  10. seth says:

    and joe,
    correct me if i’m wrong, but i seem to be one of the only voices on here not saying either

    a) illegal immigrants are a drain on our society and i don’t think we owe them anything.


    b) all people are people and that means that they’re as entitled to services that people in our country receive because they’re people and we’re people and we want to feel good about people helping people.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:

    Fine. You’re wrong.

  12. Christa says:

    Bottom line, I would hate to work at the clinic and be the one to have to turn away someone who is ill…..illegal or not. They would have to fire me.

  13. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Yeah Seth, you’re wrong. I’m not saying undocumented people are “entitled” to anything, but that this local nonprofit is doing our community a disservice by its decision. On several levels.

  14. Emmy says:

    I agree 100% Christa. I couldn’t do it and I feel bad for anyone who has to.

    In my opinion it is a sad thing that we even stop to think about a persons status in our country when they come needing treatment. I guess its just all about the money.

  15. seth says:

    you guys, for some reason, the free clinic has decided they can’t provide care to these people. maybe you’re right and it’s because the volunteer group is constituted of an army of briggmans. whatever the reason, i refuse to believe that the free clinic is the only way that our community can care for these folks. i would suggest that we redirect some of the criticism toward the free clinic and the if ‘i were a volunteer they’d have to fire me (?)’ rhetoric towards constructive problem solving. our community has the opportunity to be a shining light in the state and the nation when it comes to dealing with a large number of immigrants per capita. if we are going to be succesful we’re going to have to be willing to be innovative. i feel like getting up in arms over the clinic not serving undocumented immigrants is kind of like getting pissed off that the square peg won’t fit in the round hole. what do you guys think about the possibility of some sort of organization who’s primary mission is to serve these folks and encourage them to do their part to support it?

  16. Marty says:

    “There was concern for the continued availability of services to as many people as we could serve and an awareness that the resources we have are not unlimited, they are limited. Therefore we can regrettably only serve a limited number of people. ”

    Makes sense to me that illegal (sorry, ‘undocumented’) immigrants get the shaft in order to provide the best quality service to people who aren’t breaking the law by just being in the country. It sucks that this isn’t paradise and everyone can’t get what they want, but that’s just the reality of the situation.

    I work in the health-care industry (primarily for injured military returning from Iraq) and it is evident amongst my peers that our country is on a slippery slope of no return right now concerning the amount of money it costs for health care and the shrinking of available physicians. We really have to draw the line somewhere, and unfortunately, some people will get the shaft.

    I know mine is not a popular opinion, but when you go to meetings day after day that basically revolve around the imminent breakdown of the health care system and what we can do to prevent it, it’s hard not to get a little ‘glass half empty’ about it.

  17. Christa says:

    Seth, I made a statement about how I feel. Me. MY feelings. I am not qualified in the area of health care and would not WANT to volunteer at the clinic. I simply made a statement. I was not critisizing anyone.

  18. seth says:

    thanks christa,
    i’ll look to you for confused rhetoric and deb for qualified health care criticism.

    i love you guys. seriously though, solutions? someone mentioned (i think in another thread) the possibility of churches organizing clinics. i know that some local churches are already doing a lot (particularly with after school programs) but i wonder if there would be a willingness (or if it would even be legally/logistically possible) for them to run clinics out of churches.

  19. Patrick says:

    I think it’s important to recognize that the decision made by the Free Clinic board has broad political implications here in Virginia. For example, Greg Letiecq, founder of the racist hate group Help Save Manassas, and blogger of one of the most read blogs in the state – Black Velvet Bruce Li, has posted about the change @

    This guy has significant political influence, and unfortunately represents a pretty organized racist response to recent immigration.

    In this context, the Free Clinic preventing undocumented people from receiving services has repercussions beyond the obvious practical ones. Do we want to feed the flames of hate that divide us from one another, and allow the government to single out a group of people for repression without a struggle? Who’s next?

    It seems to me that organized community pressure could make a difference in this instance. I know that the Free Clinic could find a way to continue serving our neighbors if they had to; they could make a stand, helping to set a standard for what it means to provide for the health of an entire community.

    It’s up to us to come together, it’s obvious that many of us recognize that this decision sends a horrible message. We can’t let groups like Help Save Manassas define for us how the state will see the people of Harrisonburg.

    So let me know if there’s interest in a meeting on this, and if anyone would like to help organize it. Also, I know it’s last minute, but the Virginia Immigrants People’s Coalition is meeting this Saturday at The People United Gathering in Afton, Va. Check out for more info. or give me a call @ 209-2192 if you’re interested in going from Harrisonburg.


  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    Solutions? Treat poor people at the free clinic. But then again, should those who don’t have their boots on the ground even be suggesting solutions?

    Your comments on this topic remind me of a couple of principles: One is that maturity is when you quit believing in your uniqueness (“i seem to be one of the only voices on here …”) and fall in love with your complexities; the other is that in youth you learn, in age you understand.

    Christa expressed a heartfelt human emotion that deserves better than to be mocked.

    And as to DebSF’s comments: The day you can debate her on any topic related to economics, public policy, or numbers, is the day you can write as well as me, son.

  21. finnegan says:

    I’m fairly certain that unless you are a licensed medical professional (paramedic, nurse, doctor) you cannot legally practice or administer medicine in the U.S. (let alone get your hands on large amounts of pharmaceutical drugs). So I doubt the Sunday school teacher at Blessed Sacrament could do what the free clinic does.

  22. Dave Briggman says:


    No one’s a racist because they don’t want illegal aliens in the country.

    I think it’s important to recognize what a stupid statement you’ve made here.

  23. finnegan says:

    I find myself taking an unfamiliar position after reading Patrick’s comment.

    Although I fundamentally disagree with the Help Save Virginia groups associated with the Minutemen, I wouldn’t classify them as racist. “Nativist” is a more accurate description. And I wouldn’t call them a hate group, either. Officially, SPLC has 34 hate groups listed in the state, and Help Save Virginia (or Manassas) is not among them. If Help Save Virginia is a racist hate group, what does that make actual neo-Nazi groups?

    I think the connection you’re trying to make between Help Save Virginia and the free clinic board is misleading and unfair. Help Save Manassas had nothing to do with the clinic’s decision (unless you have some inside knowledge of a board member’s connection to that group). Also, the free clinic is not “the government.”

    I agree that “organized community pressure could make a difference in this instance,” as long as it is applied in a respectful and legitimate context.

  24. Brian M says:

    Seth, I would think that running a clinic out of a church would be logistically impossible. With the regulations required to provide healthcare the church would have to spend an amazing amount of funding towards building a proper facility. Their best bet would be to provide funding towards the care of those no longer being covered by the Free Clinic. Perhaps they could work out a deal where they acted as a free health insurer? It would take a lot of funding, but not nearly as much as opening their own clinic.

  25. JGFitzgerald says:

    Agreed in principle, Finnegan. But I have to wonder (actually, I don’t; it’s just an expression) how upset some of the Know-Nothings would be if the undocumented immigrants were white. No specific relevance to the Free Clinic issue, but a general subtext.

  26. seth says:

    so let me get this straight,
    the best solution that any of you can come up with is to guilt/bully the free clinic into doing something that they have said they are unable to do?

    joe, i don’t believe i’m unique, i just try to be sensible. the free clinic and many of the other organizations that serve people in our community were set up well before the influx of immigrants was ever an issue here. that being the case, it just doesn’t strike me as all that unbelievable that this new development is something that they don’t feel equipped to handle (which i assume it does most of you, seeing as you seem to be hell bent on believing (on some level) that this decision arose out of a distaste for the immigrants in our community, and that if they wanted to help, they could). they’ve said they can’t. end of story. i suggested the churches (and qualified the suggestion) not because i thought it was a brilliant and feasible idea, but because i was hoping to move this conversation in a constructive direction re how these people will receive care (although i don’t mind mocking finn. keep it coming).

    if ya’ll prefer to try to make the free clinic look/feel bad enough that they reverse their decision, that’s great. i want to see these people cared for too. i wish you luck. but i think there’s a better way.

    and joe,
    i didn’t realize you knew my mom but it makes me proud to call such a great writer dad.

  27. JGFitzgerald says:


    I’m astonished you would post something like that in reference to your mother. Apparently I hold her in higher regard than you do.

    The use of the word “son” in this instance was obviously intended to be patronizing and dismissive, not literal. The rules of this blog, and of social discourse in general, prevent my outright referring to you as an argumentative whelp with no regard for the opinions of others, but then again a more direct approach might be necessary with someone who refuses, or is unable, to understand nuance or subtlety.

    The distinction you miss among the bloggers is between those who are, on the one hand, addressing the actions of a public body and expressing their feelings about it, and those who, on the other hand, are criticizing their fellow bloggers.

    I make forays into the second group for the benefit of bloggers like you and Briggman, but I don’t fool myself that it’s clever or valuable. It’s just fun.

  28. Dave Briggman says:

    Joe, if you had only half the brain I do…

    Wait…if you had even half a brain.

  29. JGFitzgerald says:


    But it was fun, right?

    See point above.

    I’m done here. To whomever I was arguing with, I grant last-word status.

  30. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Seth, I appreciate you trying to look out for the future of the Free Clinic here. I would be very interesting to know, and in fact asked Mr. Sider, what the cost savings of this move was. I got a vague “it will help us grow” in response, which was confirmed in the responses of the two board members I talked to. Yet, they also said there’s no waiting list…so what new cases are they hoping/planning to serve as a result of this move? If they could quantify the cost of serving undocumented people, then we could offer to help allay those costs. As it is, they’re not being very forthcoming at all about what a helpful community response would be – raise money to reinstate services? start a competing free clinic in town?

    And ultimately, how is this decision different from choosing not to serve practicing Jews, or people who used drugs in the past, or people who are members of the Republican party? The only difference I see is that the group they chose to stop serving is politically and economically powerless to object.

    By the way, in reference to my earlier comment about people who committed crimes, I meant that in the broadest sense. I would imagine a good 80-90% of the people in this community (and even those who post on this blog) have at some point committed a crime for which they could have been punished by jail time – using drugs, driving recklessly, pirating software or music, etc. Bear in mind that most of these undocumented folks have never been arrested or charged with the crime of illegal border crossing (or other crimes for that matter). Thus, they are no more “criminal” than the general population of this community.

  31. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    *I would be very interestED to know…

    kind of like how some of my English language-learning students say “I’m boring” when they mean “I’m bored.”

  32. seth says:

    i thought my comment subtley (and comically) illustrated that you have as little right to refer to me as son as you do to refer to yourself as a great writer. guess years of ‘your momma’ jokes growing up must have desensitized me. sorry i offended you.

    trash talking is often clever, rarely valuable but generally fun.

    that being said, i don’t mean to be desultorily critical. but words matter, and when the overall tone of discourse is more concerned with establishing that this decision must have been racially/ethnographically motivated than it is with reality and what sort of more suitable arrangement might be found, those words aren’t very valuable either.

    maybe you can berate the free clinic into seeing undocumented individuals again.

    best of luck.

  33. Draegn88 says:

    “Of course, the hospital bills have piled up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, she does not have insurance. To help out, you can make donations at any National Bank of South Carolina to the “Cayce Assault Victim Fund.”

    So across the country illegal aliens are receiving free health care while bankrupting hospitals, yet an American citizen has to ask for charity after being violently assaulted. Where have the priorities of “caring for your fellow Americans” gone?

  34. Frank J Witt says:

    “Anytime someone is the victim of a crime by an illegal alien the government should be responsible for the medical bills for letting the garbage into this country, instead they use our tax money to pay illegal aliens medical bills, welfare, court costs, schools, and leave people like this young girl to fend for herself.”

    A comment left on this story…apparently it is correct because it was not taken down as have some others.

    But as in the previous post, being an AMERICAN has become a crime in itself and heaven help you if you believe it…or worse, voice it aloud.

  35. Tonya O says:

    Keep speaking the truth, Jeremy!

  36. Patrick says:

    Just to respond quickly to Brent’s comments on Help Save Manassas:

    Check out their blog consistently for a week,, and read the comments (many of which come from Greg himself), and tell me the group is not racist and hateful. They have a legitimacy, and that’s what’s scary, but it makes the content of what they say no less dangerous. Thought they don’t always cloak their hate, a month or so ago they had a posting about wishing there was a killer immigrant eating dog in Prince William County.

    And in terms of the Free Clinic not being the government, you’re right, they aren’t. But the government’s actions set the tone for what’s acceptable for private entities like the Free Clinic.

    I hope to talk in person to some folks about this in the future, I think together we could work out a real solution.

  37. Patrick says:

    One thing that I would like to add – above and beyond our perspective, we need to listen to those most directly affected by this decision, first, those losing service, and second, the immigrant community here in the Valley.

    If a solution is going to come from the community, I think it needs to be guided by that piece of the community being targeted.

    And Jeremy, I second Tanya…

  38. Draegn88 says:

    Patrick, how would you describe La Raza, Mecha, Aztlan and all the other reconquest, kick white Americans out of the country groups?

    Are you against racism/ethnocentrism in all forms, or do you merely pick and choose sides as it benefits your personal agenda?

  39. Draegn88 says:

    Patrick, there are immigrant groups, both “legal” and “illegal” that are racist. What do your friends in the immigrant community have to say about them?

  40. JGFitzgerald says:

    88 is code for HH, or Heil Hitler. What do your friends in the Know-Nothing community have to say about that?

  41. Draegn88 says:

    Hey Joe, what do you know? Obliviously nothing! You like all other left wingers are not telepathic, are not empathic, and have no clue what something may mean for a particular individual.

    To me the “Know-Nothing” community is those people who sit around blindly believing everything the MSM spouts off at them, for, no other reason than “I heard it on TV3.” “It was on the radio.” “It was in the paper.”

    That sounds like you Joe, believing some liberal rant you read somewhere, without ever asking a question.

    88 could be the year a person was born in. See TheHill88 on youtube, she has a video about it.

  42. JGFitzgerald says:

    If you’re going to disown your beliefs, you should change the handle.

  43. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Yeah Draegn that’s pretty lame. We know you frequent neo-Nazi and white supremacist message boards, so it’s not a crazy stretch to guess you’re using 88 like a lot of other folks who share your views do.

    “88 could be the year a person was born in.” OK, so was it the year you were born?

  44. Draegn88 says:

    Patrick takes one blog and tries to paint the entire membership of Save Manasas as being racist.

    Joe latches onto an urban legend and tries to villianize me for asking Patrick a simple question, when all he should have done is either answer for Patrick or keep his mouth shut.

    This is the problem with liberals. All they can do is attack anyone who does not follow their narrow minded view or disagrees with them politically. They can never answer a simple question.

    Truth is that anyone can be a racist, ethnocentrist, regionalist, nationalist, regardless of their origins. Liberals cannot believe this for some reason. So once again, what of the racist comments and actions of the illegal aliens and those who support them?

    Jeremy if you have an email, I’ll tell you what Draegn and the 88 mean to me.

  45. finnegan says:

    Looks like TV3 finally ran a story on the clinic’s new policy July 1:

    Executive Director Rich Sider says concerns from medical volunteers and the need to treat people in the country legally prompted the clinic’s board to look at the issue.

    “Some of the volunteers in our clinic were aware of that and started to raise questions about whether we should serve this population,” says Sider.

    He says a chief concern was volunteers potentially leaving over the issue.

    “If we can’t keep medical volunteers serving at our clinic, you know we can’t really operate,” says Sider. “We can’t serve anybody.”

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