The Winchester/Frederick County Community Services Council (“Council”) sowed the seeds of the Free Medical Clinic in 1985. The Council, a group of social service agencies that assessed human services needs in the area, found that access to health care was a serious problem for many residents. A number of large Northern Shenandoah Valley residents were employed by small businesses and/or in industries that did not offer health insurance, including in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Their situations were dire when they felt ill, as they could not afford to see a doctor or cover the cost of medications.
After a year of planning and preparation, the Community Services Council named a twenty-five member Board of Directors to oversee the creation of a free health care facility. The clinic would offer basic, non-emergency and preventive medical services for low-income members of the community who lacked private or public health insurance and the Board would raise funds from private sources to support the facility. With private monetary contributions, donations of equipment and furnishings from local physicians and the Winchester Medical Center, and with the assistance of two $20,000 grants from the Public Welfare Fund, the Free Medical Clinic opened its doors in October 1986 in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Winchester.
In the beginning, volunteers worked one day a week to convert a large meeting hall at the church into a health care center. They wheeled in makeshift equipment and strung curtains up to screen off three examining rooms and used church tables as examining tables. As the number of patients being served increased rapidly, the clinic outgrew the church basement. The First Presbyterian Church stepped in again and offered a nearby former fire hall that they owned as a permanent site for the Free Medical Clinic.
In 1988, the clinic’s Board of Directors raised $180,000 to transform 3,800 square feet of open space on the fire hall’s two floors into four examination rooms, a pharmacy, a patient screening area, a waiting room, a meeting room, and the clinic’s administrative office. For just $1.00 per year in rent to the church, the Free Medical Clinic was able to offer a place for their patients to receive medical care, referral services, and assistance with their needed medications.
Our community will forever be grateful to the Community Services Council, the First Presbyterian Church, and the founding members of the Free Medical Clinic’s Board of Directors, including two local surgeons who were particularly instrumental in the establishment and operation of the clinic. Dr. Terry Sinclair, MD, FACS, a general surgeon, was one of the first physicians to become actively involved in clinic work. Dr. Sinclair recruited other physicians, served as the President of the clinic Board of Directors and, for 30 years, was the clinic’s volunteer Medical Director. Dr. Monford D. Custer, Jr., MD, FACS, was also instrumental in the growth and development of the clinic. A local surgeon, Dr. Custer enlisted the aid of the Gallagher Foundation (of which he was a trustee) in funding the clinic, solicited support from many other individuals, and was, himself, a generous benefactor.
As the Free Medical Clinic continued to grow and prosper over the years, it became necessary once again to find a larger space to offer additional programs and serve more patients. In 2003, the clinic moved to its current home at the Our Health Kendall Community Campus on Cameron Street. The downtown Winchester location provides patients with access to public transportation and allows the clinic to refer patients to other nearby services both on and off the campus.
In September 2017, the clinic Board of Directors announced to the community that they had voted to change the name of the clinic to Dr. Terry Sinclair Health Clinic, Inc. doing business as Sinclair Health Clinic. They did so in honor of one of the clinic’s founders and its long-time Medical Director, Dr. Terry Sinclair. Dr. Sinclair passed away in December 2021 leaving behind a legacy of healing, service, and community.
The public-spirited commitment and selflessness of ordinary citizens, community leaders, healthcare professionals, and business executives in our city and counties have made all of this possible. The clinic’s vision has remained the same over the years: to deliver quality healthcare services to neighbors experiencing financial hardship.