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Good Shepherd Clinic of Dawson County undaunted by COVID-19
In addition to medical, dental and vision services, Good Shepherd Clinic of Dawson County offers “Grace in a Box” meals to those in need. - photo by Erica Jones

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Shepherd Clinic of Dawson County has managed to stay operational and carry on with its mission of providing free healthcare services to the people in need. 

The Good Shepherd is a clinic that operates under the mission of providing free health, dental and vision services for Dawson County adults who have no access to health insurance and are at or below the poverty level line. 

“We have medical, dental, vision services, women’s wellness and pharmacy assistance,” Good Shepherd Board Chair Steve Melching said. “And there’s a need for it in the community — we see about 100 to 125 patients a month.” 

But with the recent coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the Good Shepherd like any other business has met challenges, like reduced donations from the community. 

“Patient numbers are approximately the same, but donations and sponsorships are down because many companies are struggling,” Melching said. 

In addition to fewer donations, the number of volunteers got smaller during the pandemic too. With only one paid employee, the clinic runs on work by doctors and staff volunteers, and any losses to that volunteer base can be devastating, according to Melching. 

“We’ve lost some volunteers,” Melching said, “at one time we had as many as 90 and we’re nowhere near that number now. But we’ve had a few come back in the last few weeks, and we’re actively recruiting new volunteers.”

Almost the entire staff, including doctors, at the Good Shepherd Clinic are volunteers, according to clinic staff. - photo by Erica Jones

Because of the virus, Melching says that some patients have been concerned about coming into the clinic. But with an increase in the use of telemedicine practices and increased safety protocols, the clinic is safe for those who are in need of assistance. 

“Protocols are in place: everyone is masked, everyone’s temperature is taken, they wait outside, have an appointment or sign in and wait in the car,” Melching said. “We’ve got a got room here if somebody comes in and they’re really sick, and in some cases, the doctor will even go meet them outside.” 

David Moore, a doctor who volunteers at the clinic, explained that in many instances the free health services can make a huge difference in the patients’ lives. 

“We had a new patient who I walked in the room and said ‘how are you’ and he said ‘why do you care?’,” Moore said. “So I said ‘we’re here to help you because we do care’, and the conversation kind of evolved and he ended up saying that if he hadn’t come here he might not have made it through the day, so that’s pretty touching.”

According to Moore, this difference he can make in the lives of others makes his volunteer work at the clinic more than worth it. 

"The ones that are in great despair are maybe one in 10 or 20, but most everybody you see has real problems in their living situations or their health conditions,” Moore said. “To me, this is a very rewarding place to work because they’re all very appreciative people.”

The impact that the free services make on the patients is something that many people might not even fully understand, according to Melching.

"Most of us have no realization what that would be like because we’ve had insurance and reasonably good health our entire lives,” Melching said. “But to have no access to insurance and sometimes no food, that’s hopelessness.”

In addition to medical services, the organization also distributes meals through Grace-in-a-Box, a meal ministry of Grace Presbyterian Church. While the church funds the meal boxes, the Good Shepherd distributes them from the clinic on Thursdays during open hours. 

“We also distribute non-perishable food items every day that we’re open,” Melching said. “Canned goods, crackers and other items are put into these boxes, and you can come get two per family every time we’re open.”

The boxes are a welcome supplement for many people in the county, according to Melching.

“Some people might not realize it, but there’s a lot of need in the county,” Melching said. “40 to 50% of the kids in the county are on free or reduced lunch programs, so these help.” 

A recent partnership with State Farm insurance agent Carla Boutin and her office has helped with raising more donations for the meals program, as well as monetary donations. 

“State Farm has created a Good Neighbor community fund to support and donate during this time, and we’ve chosen the Good Shepherd Clinic to donate to,” State Farm employee Molly Chandler said. “We donated over $400 worth of non-perishable foods for the clinic to distribute and also gift certificates to Crave for all the volunteers in the clinic.”

While the Good Neighbor fund is aimed at raising food donations, a second program by State Farm is aimed at raising monetary funds for the clinic. 

According to Good Shepherd Board Chair Steve Melching, left, the clinic relies on donations from individuals and groups such as State Farm, which is currently holding two fundraising programs to raise both food and monetary donations for Good Shepherd. - photo by Erica Jones

“Quotes for Good is also a program that we decided to donate to the Good Shepherd for,” State Farm employee Ashton Pierce said. “Every time somebody who isn’t already State Farm insured calls for a quote in the month of July, we donate $10 to the Good Shepherd.” 

The goal of the program is to raise $1,000 for the Good Shepherd, and according to Melching both the money and the food donations make a huge difference for the clinic. 

“We’re totally dependent on business sponsorships like this and individual contributions and donations; we receive no federal funding whatsoever,” Melching said. “We do apply for grants and get some of those, but individual sponsorships are large for us. And we’re already getting a lot of thank you from the staff for the gift cards."