Extend-a-Hand donations sought to help people with prescriptions and housing

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 28, 2013 

While thousands of Washington residents are signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, there still will be people who need help paying for vital prescriptions, said Gib Clarke, director of planning and development at Interfaith Community Health Center in Bellingham.

Even in Massachusetts, where that state's care law became the model for the federal law, not everyone has health insurance.

"There is the recognition that we're not going to get everybody," Clarke said. "Getting to 100 percent is probably unlikely."

That's one reason donations to Extend-a-Hand, The Bellingham Herald's charity, continue to benefit the community, he said.

The health center is one of two beneficiaries of Extend-a-Hand. Along with helping patients with prescriptions, donations also help low-income Whatcom County residents find and keep rental housing. Housing programs supported by Extend-a-Hand are run by the Opportunity Council, a nonprofit community agency.

Last holiday season, people donated $42,084 to Extend-a-Hand. In addition, Regal Entertainment Group donated $29,276, proceeds from a preview event at the new Barkley Regal theater complex.

The Herald covers Extend-a-Hand's administrative costs up to donations of $43,000, so gifts directly support people in need.

At Interfaith, a total of 129 patients received help with 258 prescriptions last year, thanks to Extend-a-Hand, Clarke said.

One of those who benefitted was a man under 20 with a serious heart condition. Extend-a-Hand helped him receive the expensive medications he needed for three months. Another young man helped by Extend-a-Hand needed four months of anti-fungal medication to treat an infected wound. Both men were uninsured, Clarke said.

Interfaith estimates that its patients without insurance will decline from 18 percent of medical visits to 9 percent, thanks to the federal health care law, Clarke said. However, several insurance plans in the state's health exchange require people to pay the first several hundred dollars of their prescriptions, Clarke said. Extend-a-Hand could help those people cover that cost.

At the Opportunity Council, people in 132 households avoided eviction or received other rental help last year thanks to Extend-a-Hand, said Jessica Brown, manager of homeless housing programs at the agency. The number of households helped was larger than the previous year because of the extra donation from Regal Entertainment.

People are helped with housing in two main ways. An eviction prevention program provides short-term aid to people having a hard time covering their rent but who, after review by case managers, are judged good bets to keep their housing long term. Another program helps people with deposits or first-month's rent so they can rent a place of their own.

Last year, Bellingham voters approved a property tax levy that will raise nearly $21 million over seven years for low-income housing. Most of the money, nearly $16 million, will be used to preserve or produce rental housing. Nearly $1.9 million will fund support services, including rental assistance and eviction prevention programs.

City officials have said the levy-funded program is not intended to duplicate existing programs, and noted that only Bellingham residents benefit, while the Opportunity Council helps people countywide.

"There are a lot of people in need in our community," Brown said. "We're not always able to help people coming in for assistance."

TO DONATE

Tax-deductible donations can be mailed or taken to: Extend-a-Hand, c/o Opportunity Council, P.O. Box 2134, Bellingham, WA 98227. Credit card donations are accepted. Details: Jackie Rafata-Rinker, 360-734-5121, ext. 333.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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