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Friends in Need finds itself in need of some friends

March 7th, 2014 11:14 pm by Matthew Lane

Friends in Need finds itself in need of some friends

Aundrea Christian and Dr. Paul Moore work on a patient at Friends In Need. Ned Jilton II photo.

KINGSPORT — Friends in Need is in need of some friends right now, as the nonprofit health-care clinic faces another financial challenge this year that could affect the long-term viability of the organization.

Chartered in 1993, Friends in Need provides on-site primary care and dental care for the working uninsured in Sullivan and Hawkins counties in Tennessee and in Scott County, Va.

The nonprofit organization has provided more than 75,000 people with the dental and medical care they require but would otherwise be unable to afford.

Bruce Sites, the executive director of FIN, came before the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen this week, giving a brief history of the organization’s recent challenges and requesting financial assistance from the city for the coming year.

Sites said when Wellmont Health Systems pulled its support of FIN in 2011 (roughly $350,000 to $400,000), the organization was within a few hours of shutting down or merging with another organization. Fortunately, Sites said BlueCross BlueShield agreed to provide a $300,000 matching grant for the next three years.

However, 2014 is the last year of the grant.

Sites said FIN is now working to raise $150,000 in matching funds in an effort to convince BlueCross to extend the grant for another three years.

“Friends in Need is an important institution for the community of Kingsport,” Sites said. “It’s been around 20 years and does vital work. We can’t afford to let it fail.”

FIN serves about 6,500 to 7,000 patients each year. Seventy-five percent of the patients are from Sullivan County, 13 percent from Hawkins, and 12 percent are from Scott County, Sites said.

“The average payment by patient is $30. The more patients we see, the more we lose,” Sites said.

The organization lost $71,000 in 2013 with total costs for the year being $725,800. Sites said FIN has made some cost-cutting measures recently — reducing staff by two and relocating to one facility (saving $1,500 a month in rent). Last fall, FIN did raise $55,000 through a fundraiser, Sites said.

FIN served nearly 3,500 patients from Kingsport last year, amounting to roughly $460,000 of the organization’s budget.

Given this information, Sites requested Monday afternoon the city of Kingsport reimburse FIN $10 per patient visit for 2014 with the estimated yearly support being about $35,000.

Sites said FIN would be going to Sullivan, Hawkins and Scott counties to make similar requests for funding.

Since Sites’ presentation took place during a work session, the BMA could take no official action on the request.

“If there was no Friends in Need, it would have an effect on the emergency rooms, probably more than anything else,” Mayor Dennis Phillips said.

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