The nation's struggling economy and the May immigration raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville have led to more area residents seeking free health care services and food in Decorah.

That's according to Decorah Community Free Clinic Manager Andrea Homstad, R.N., who said the Clinic, now in its seventh year of operation, is serving more people than ever.

"That's pretty much been the case since the raid. Throughout the summer we've seen more displaced Agriprocessors workers who had been going to clinics and paying their bills for health care," said Homstad.

"Now many of them are out of work and can't pay for health care the way they used to."

In addition to the jobless immigrant population, Homstad said the struggling economy has caused other area residents to lose their jobs or health insurance, causing them to seek free services as well.

"Need across the board has been steadily increasing," she said.

How it works

The Free Clinic, located at First Lutheran Church in Decorah, is open Thursday evenings, with walk-in registration time between 5 and 6 p.m.

"We have a triage process and we take the most needy patients first. If people aren't there by 6 p.m., they may not get seen," she said.

Homstad said the Clinic, which is run by two paid employees and about a dozen volunteers, usually helps between 12 and 20 people on a given Thursday evening.

"Since the raid, our volunteers have also gone to Postville a couple of times a month to have clinics there, and we intend to keep doing that on an as-needed basis," she said.

Homstad said the Free Clinic serves all ages, but doesn't duplicate services already offered in the area.

"If we screen them informally and they would qualify for any other existing programs, such as mental, sexual, child or wellness care, we steer them toward those services. If they don't qualify for that, and they need a service we can't provide, we just beg for someone to donate the services," she said.

Homstad added the group also works with Donlon Healthmart Pharmacy of Decorah to help administer low-cost prescriptions to the Clinic's clients.

"It would be hard without their cooperation," she said.

The future

Homstad said she feels the government or society in general should increase its services to those who can't buy their own health care.

"It would be great to not have to run as a free clinic. You hear the term 'medical home' a lot (a term used to describe the premise that care managed and coordinated by a personal physician with the right tools will lead to better outcomes). The idea of a home is so comforting ... We're more like the homeless shelter for health care, so we shouldn't be that medical home, but until there's something else out there for these people, we feel like we need to keep doing this," she said.

Food pantry

Carolyn Flaskerud, director of the Food Pantry at First Lutheran Church, said her agency has also seen a huge increase in usage since the Postville raid.

"We're also seeing more elderly than we used to, somewhat due to Free Clinic traffic," said Flaskerud.

"We're here for people Monday through Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (closed holidays). We encourage people to come only once a week, but if they have a drastic emergency, we wouldn't turn them away," she said.

How to help

The Decorah Community Free Clinic is run primarily through small donations, grant funding and extensive volunteer labor.

"We're always seeking donations and professional volunteers," said Homstad, adding the Clinic encourages social workers, nurses, medical providers and medical interpreters who would like to volunteer to call her at 563-419-0962.

Flaskerud said the Food Pantry is also seeking monetary donations, which will be used to purchase items locally or at the Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo.

"We shop at Quillin's, Fareway and Wal-Mart, but we also do well at the food bank. One dollar will buy between $5 and $13 there," she said.

Anyone who is interested in helping fund the Food Pantry's efforts can call First Lutheran Church at 563-382-2638.