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Filling a need

Families find hope at clinic

POSTED: January 20, 2010 4:00 a.m.
Michele Hester Dawson Community News/

Good Shepherd Clinic volunteers Barb Baptista, left, and Barbara Quintrell check in patients last week at the free clinic in downtown Dawsonville.

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Walking into Good Shepherd Clinic, Retha Smith had a glow not often seen in the three years since she and her husband lost nearly everything to identity theft.

  

“If it didn’t fit in the back of the truck, we had to leave it,” she said.

  

Working odd jobs when they could find them, the couple lived in a tent in the woods for a couple years until the frigid weather finally caught up to them about six weeks ago.

  

“It wasn’t the flu, just an upper respiratory infection, but I was so sick,” Smith said. “I didn’t know places like (the clinic) existed.”

  

Thanks to the free local clinic, Smith and many other uninsured Dawson County residents have been able to receive essential medical care.

  

Opened in September, the clinic is housed in the basement of Grace Presbyterian Church in downtown Dawsonville.

  

Over the last four months, it has expanded its general practice to offer specialty care, ranging from gynecology and surgical consultations to ear, nose and throat exams.

  

The clinic is also working with an IT firm provides electronic medical records.

  

“This has added much needed support to the medical services we offer,” said Larry Anderson, volunteer primary care physician. “The value of these gifts is unmeasurable.”

  

The clinic operates through donations and a volunteer staff of doctors, nurses, medical technicians and administrative personnel.

  

More than 160 patients have received medical care or prescription assistance at the clinic, according to director Barb Baptist.

  

The clinic serves patients ages 19 to 64 who live or work in Dawson County.

  

To be eligible, a patient must be uninsured and have an annual household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

  

Many patients have never needed assistance before.

  

Pam Hudgins lost her insurance after she had surgery on her neck and could no longer work full time.

  

“I’m so used to giving and you have to learn how to receive too,” she said. “To ask for help sometimes is really hard for people to admit they need it.

  

“But there’s no stigma as far as coming in. You’re treated with respect.”

  

Hudgins calls the clinic a miracle. For Cindy Gooch and her two sons, it’s a lifesaver.

  

“My health is declining and I don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said.

  

Gooch has suffered from epilepsy her entire life and depends on medication to balance the condition.

  

After losing her job, she began taking her medication less often in order to make it last longer.

  

Evert Oortman, a volunteer physician at the clinic, said Gooch’s story is not uncommon.

  

“A real problem that we deal with is medication,” Oortman said. “Even if we recommend medication or write for medication for our patients, unless the clinic has a pharmacy that will help, the patients won’t get them filled when it comes to doing things like preventive medicine like mammograms.

  

“We have to find a source that will provide them, because our patients really can’t afford it.”

  

The clinic has agreements with local pharmacies that provide medications for free or at reduced costs to the clinic.

  

Gooch’s oldest son Victor, 24, is grateful for the clinic.

  

“This means so much to us,” he said.

  

The hope patients find in the clinic has changed her life, Baptista said, and reminds her each day of all the blessings she has to count.

  

“My volunteer work and involvement at the clinic has helped me rethink my challenges,” she said. “Those who we are seeing at the clinic have a lot more reasons to feel despair, but show hope and resilience.”

  

Now living in a camper in western Dawson County, Retha Smith is beginning to smile again. She praised the dedication of the clinic’s volunteer staff.

  

“Their hearts are in the right place. They saved me,” she said. “They are a blessing. This place is a blessing.”

 

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