PORTLAND — The Portland Community Free Clinic may keep its doors open a little longer, thanks to a $25,000 challenge grant from the Emanuel and Pauline A. Lerner Foundation.

Mayor Michael Brennan and Eliot Cutler, chairman of the Portland-based philanthropy, announced the grant Dec. 14, and called upon other organizations and individuals to match it.

By Sunday, $5,000 had already been pledged in response, according to an email from the clinic.

The clinic, at 103 India St., provides no-cost primary and specialty care to Cumberland County residents who earn too much to qualify for public programs such as Medicaid, but not enough to afford health care on their own. The clinic, which provides evening hours, is often the only possible source of care for the area’s working poor.

An average of more than 500 patients rely on the clinic for care, according to the city.

For nearly two decades, the clinic was supported by a partnership between Mercy Hospital and the city. But as reported earlier this month, Mercy stopped its contribution of about $200,000 a year in 2011, and emergency funding from the city ended in September.

Both Mercy and the city continue to provide in-kind support, including office space. The clinic has tightened its budget, and more than 100 physicians, nurses, counselors and others volunteer to keep it operating.

But it still needs more than $9,000 a month, primarily to pay three part-time employees. At that rate, the clinic’s reserve funds could be exhausted in a few months.

“When we learned of the impending fate of the Portland Community Free Clinic, every member of the Lerner Foundation board agreed that we needed to act right away,” Cutler said in a press release. “Without access to health care, families and communities are at risk.  The Free Clinic is a critical community asset that keeps its doors open because a remarkable group of volunteers provide care to their patients.”

Brennan said the Lerner Foundation announcement couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Bearing in mind the current unpredictable landscape with in the health-care system, it is crucial that as a community we come together to support programs like the Free Clinic, which ensures that the working poor have access to health care,” Brennan said. “I hope other community leaders will follow the Lerner Foundation’s lead and help us match this grant.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

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