Lower Burrell clinic offers free pregnancy, STD, Hep C screenings
A new facility in Lower Burrell wants to expand services for pregnant women in the Alle-Kiski Valley with free ultrasounds and STD, HIV and Hepatitis C testing.
It's called TLC Clinic, located at 1155 Wildlife Lodge Road, Suite B.
Vera Marelli, executive director of the clinic, said the clinic opened because there was a need for one in the area.
"There is nowhere else in the Alle-Kiski Valley that we're aware of — until you get to Kittanning — that offers free ultrasounds, that people can just walk in the door, get free ultrasounds, and also get STD testing," Marelli said. "Our emphasis since 2014 has really been on being able to establish a medical clinic here."
The clinic is in the same building as TryLife Center, a community resource center for pregnant women, mothers and fathers, but they're completely different businesses, Marelli said.
The clinic is open to all members of the community, not just people who may need TryLife Center services, and the services are confidential, Marelli said.
"We have a separate, private entrance, a separate name, a separate staff — everything," said Marelli, who is also the executive director of TryLife Center. "We had originally talked about having the clinic upstairs, and then we said 'no.'
"We really want people in the community to know there's a health service available for them regardless of their background. We want to offer STD tests. Most people do not want somebody else to know that they're receiving any testing.
"We were very calculated in doing that so that the services would be confidential and it would be open to all the public."
The clinic is overseen by medical director Dr. Albert Fogle, a licensed osteopathic physician and surgeon.
It has its own ultrasound machine and companion equipment, which were donated or paid for through donations from a number of people and organizations.
It shares a space with Tony Tamarella's Dance Studio, but has private rooms for ultrasounds and testing. It will be open Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, when dance classes aren't in session.
"It works out perfectly," Marelli said.
Jane Mercuri, the clinic's ultrasound technician, said it's important for women to get ultrasounds. The tests verify if they are pregnant or have an ectopic pregnancy, and when they first became pregnant.
Ultrasounds also are a way for women to share their pregnancies with family members.
"A lot of times a woman feels alone," Mercuri said. "It's just nice for her to be able to share, yes, this is what I'm going through, really, and you can come in and see."
TLC Clinic is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to administer Hep C tests, which were paid for through a program managed by the department and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"When the state realized where we were located, the Department of Health actually contacted us concerning the Hep C testing because there's an epidemic going on that the general public is totally unaware of," Marelli said.
Hep C is a contagious disease that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage, and can be harmful to children born to mothers who have it. According to the CDC, about six of every 100 babies born to mothers with Hep C become infected with the virus.
"If a women is pregnant and does not realize she has Hep C and is not treated for that, it can go unnoticed by her and also by the child," Marelli said. "It's not unusual for the child to have liver failure by the age of 12, so it becomes a very critical matter to offer these services to our community."
Wes Culp, a spokesman for the state health department, said more than 250,000 people in Pennsylvania are estimated to have Hep C.
He said it's important to help people determine their health status in regards to Hep C because it helps them get the medical care they need and protect others from infection.
"For 70 to 80 percent of people with this disease, Hepatitis C has no symptoms," Culp said.
The clinic had a soft opening Friday. It is looking to hire more people and recruit volunteers.
"We still need additional sonographers or ultrasound techs and also volunteers just to work with the clients," Marelli said.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, email@example.com, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.