Health care insurance is a hotly contested political issue, but the true cost is felt by individuals unable to pay for medical care. Without help, many become seriously ill or live with chronic, often debilitating conditions that prevent the uninsured from maintaining steady employment. This reality is one M-Power Ministries addresses in its Health Center, which provides free primary care services to adult patients with no health insurance.
The clinic is made possible by a team of generous specialists, including internists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, cardiologists, dermatologists and others who give of their free time. Beverly Parker, director of M-Power Ministries Health Center, says the work would not be possible without medical specialists who are committed to giving back.
One such role model is Joe Hughes, MD, a retired internal medicine specialist and member of Canterbury United Methodist Church, who takes his volunteering work as seriously as his Hippocratic oath. Hughes has been donating his time to the clinic since its inception. He works there two days a month, bringing with him a team of two doctors, two nurses and usually two or three other associates to assist in the dispensary.
Tim Denton, MD, a gastroenterologist and member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, was a founding member of the clinic, a physician volunteer and now has returned as a board member.
"We have at least 80 volunteer physicians and 60 nurses, as well as pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and medical techs who volunteer every month," Parker said. "Other people help us run our front office, our triage and our dispensary, and a lot of UAB pre-med students volunteer.
"Seeing physicians, RNs and LPNs carving out time from their busy schedules is encouraging not only to the ministry, but also to members of the community who need help." The Health Center holds regular orientations to welcome new volunteers.
The facility takes a two-pronged approach with its Acute Clinic, a walk-in facility open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning at 3:30 p.m. and remaining open until all patients are seen, and the Caring Clinic, open Monday and Wednesday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., where uninsured individuals are seen by appointment for maintenance of chronic health conditions.
Now in its 20th year, the clinic has seen more than 40,000 patients since its inception. "The original collection of churches and individuals felt one of the biggest hurdles for the poor in getting out of poverty was lack of access to health care," said Dalton Smith, executive director of M-Power.
Parker says many of the conditions seen in the clinic are common diseases that are usually managed without problem for insured patients. But living in poverty can make it impossible to purchase the necessary medications.
"Our Caring Clinic sees a lot of diabetes, COPD, hypertension, and many of these chronic problems that require medication," Parker said. "In the Acute Clinic, we see issues like sore throat, headache, back pain, and flu."
Patients learn about the clinic through word of mouth, outreach to local shelters, coordination with area churches and referrals from emergency rooms and other medical facilities. In many cases, access to essential medication allows these individuals to stay in the game when they might otherwise have been sidelined by illness.
"Our Caring Clinic is seeing a lot of growth," Smith said. "That's gratifying for us because our mission is to help people break the cycle of poverty. A patient with a chronic condition can live a normal life with medications and consistent care. So many people without insurance don't do anything until they present at the emergency desk at a hospital. They go from episode to episode instead of getting the care they need to lead a normal life."
Parker said one patient expressed his appreciation, saying he wouldn't be able to continue attending school without the free medication the clinic provided.
"M-Power has a lot of community support from church partners, individuals and foundations," Smith said. "We could not do this without the hearts of our volunteers. It's a win-win because our volunteers have a great depth of caring for the patients. And that makes it rewarding for the volunteers themselves."
"Our patients are always so appreciative of what we provide them," Parker said. "It is a wonderful feeling to know you are able to help someone improve their life and their health."