Free clinic

When Mary, a 55-year-old woman, first came to the Mel Leaman Free Clinic, she complained of excessive thirst, fatigue and blurring vision. Mary had lost her job and insurance coverage in 1998. Since that time, she had worked part-time jobs that did not offer insurance coverage. She knew she needed medical help, and the free clinic was a viable option.

After completing her medical history, physical examination and laboratory testing, Mary was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She had a family history of diabetes, so the diagnosis was not a surprise.

Amanda Fleenor, physician’s assistant, and Mary worked together to develop a treatment plan consisting of dietary changes, increased physical activity and a medication regimen that targeted the reduction of both her blood sugar and her blood pressure. The clinic provided her with a glucometer and test strips to monitor daily blood sugar readings.

Within four months of her initial visit and following the treatment plan, Mary had surpassed her treatment goals with her glucose readings and blood pressure. She had lost 18 pounds. With medications and dietary and lifestyle changes, her energy level and vision had returned to normal. Once Mary’s glucose levels stabilized, the clinic scheduled her for a dilated diabetic eye exam through a local optometrist.

Mary continues, with the clinic’s help, to manage her chronic conditions, and, at her most recent visit, she was still reaching and maintaining blood pressure and blood glucose goals. She now reports a weight loss of 41 pounds and a nearly 20 percent reduction in body weight since her initial visit.

“The Mel Leaman Free Clinic has helped me greatly improve my health issues, and I feel so much better. The care that I received at the clinic is excellent,” Mary said, adding that her improved health allows her to enjoy spending time with her husband and grandchildren.

Mary is only one of 950 active patients who are receiving health care at the clinic. And, new federal guidelines that took effect Jan. 1 will make the clinic’s services available to even more people who are in need of medical care and without health insurance.

According to Susan Ferraro, the clinic’s new executive director, the clinic can now see patients whose incomes fall at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a two-person household can have an income of $49,380 or below and qualify for services.

The clinic’s guidelines for seeing patients are simple. Patients must meet the income requirements, not have private insurance or Medicaid, and fall between the ages of 18 and 64. Even households with zero reported income can receive services.

Ferraro said that many times patients will work full-time, often in a job that only pays minimum wage, and either have no insurance available or be unable to afford insurance.

As of Nov. 30, the clinic had logged more than 5,400 patient visits and dispensed over 10,000 prescriptions valued at over $4 million through its affiliation with The Pharmacy Connection. Ferraro pointed out that the clinic does not prescribe or keep controlled substances in the clinic.

The clinic provides acute medical care, treating such things as colds, influenza, sore throats, abdominal discomfort, minor illnesses and injuries, sinus infections and urinary tract infections. Chronic medical conditions treated include hypertension, diabetes, asthma, thyroid and other chronic disorders, high cholesterol, and COPD. Other services available include laboratory testing, diabetic eye exams, medication assistance program, behavioral health, nutrition counseling, flu vaccines, dental services, and physical and occupational therapy rehab.

Ferraro said that providing dental work is the clinic’s number-one problem because the dentists who volunteer can only see so many patients. More than 200 people are on a waiting list for dental services, she said. A Wytheville dentist, who serves as the clinic’s volunteer staff dentist, has committed to providing services onsite at the clinic every Friday if the clinic can provide a dental assistant. Ferraro said the clinic is seeking funding to pay such an assistant.

The clinic has 19 volunteer providers (doctors and dentists) and is funded by grants and generous donations from the community, Ferraro said. Services to patients are free.

Ferraro said, “The clinic is very fortunate to have volunteers who provide their services to the clinic’s patients. Local doctors and the volunteer staff dentist see patients at the clinic weekly and additional volunteer dentists and an oral surgeon see patients of the clinic at their offices.”

Students from the Emory & Henry College School of Health Sciences also treat clinic patients under a doctor’s supervision. Medical staff and students from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg come to Marion to treat clinic patients on Fridays.

For more information about the clinic, call 276-781-2090 or go to www.melleamanfreeclinic.org. Clinic hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. except for the lunch hour. Some evening hour appointments are also available.

Ferraro assumed the executive director’s position on Nov. 1. She previously served as executive director of the local American Red Cross and United Way. She was an admissions counselor at Marion Youth Center and more recently the work-based-learning coordinator for Blue Ridge Job Corps Center and an admissions counselor for Insights Training Group.

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