BUXTON (AP) – Thanks to a nurse practitioner from Buxton, residents who can’t afford health insurance but earn too much to qualify for government assistance now have a new health-care option.

Leavitt’s Mill Health Center, which opened last month in 650 square feet of donated space in a square, brown building off U.S. 202, is the latest among a handful of free clinics operating in southern Maine.

Gov. John Baldacci is scheduled to visit the clinic Friday and talk about the value of accessible health care in Maine. The ranks of Maine’s uninsured have swelled in recent years as rising insurance rates price out the self-employed and force employers to drop coverage.

Clinic founder Patsy Leavitt said she has seen too many people who lack health insurance pass through emergency rooms with ailments that have gone untreated and then become expensive to treat.

“I was especially worried over the years that (medical professionals) never spent time with them and taught them about being healthy,” said Leavitt, who quit her job at a private practice 14 months ago to found the clinic with help from foundations and private donors.

Leavitt’s Mill Health Center, named after a historic grist and saw mill in the area, is open for three hours a day at varying times on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Leavitt and two other nurse practitioners rotate duties, while a local doctor gives medical advice when needed. If specialized care is necessary, patients are referred to hospitals or doctors’ offices that offer charity care.

The clinic is a community effort. More than 10 people have volunteered their time cleaning, filing charts or organizing the free medicine samples provided by traveling pharmaceutical representatives. Leavitt said as many as 100 people have contributed to the clinic through gifts and services.

Most of the 24 people who have passed through the clinic’s two exam rooms have been adults, but school nurses are spreading the word about the clinic, and an entire family is coming for check-ups this week, Leavitt said.

Much larger free clinic programs in Portland and Biddeford could have served these patients, but Leavitt wanted to offer a program closer to home. “You still have to get in your car and drive half an hour to 45 minutes to get to one of those clinics,” Leavitt said.

“I just really felt that our community deserved to have that access be accessible.”

Among the visitors to the clinic was Chip Light, a 58-year-old self-employed handyman who was offered medication for asthma and referred to another doctor’s office for possible liver or gall bladder problems.

Light, who hadn’t seen a doctor in three years, donated a coat rack in exchange and built rails for the handicapped-accessible entrance to the building.

“It’s great for the community to have something like this,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can for you.”

AP-ES-10-09-03 0217EDT

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