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Volunteer keeps Dawson citizens healthy
Margie O'Byrne
Margie O'Byrne. - photo by Allie Dean

For Margie O’Byrne, there is nothing quite like the reward of helping patients obtain medications that can drastically improve their quality of life.

O’Byrne spends hours each week at the Good Shepherd Clinic in Dawsonville, filling out reams of paperwork to obtain drugs for the clinic’s patients. The drugs are free for the patient, as are all other services provided at the clinic. And O’Byrne’s help is free as well.

Retired from business, O’Byrne has been a volunteer at the clinic since its inception, when Grace Presbyterian Church started treating patients in its basement in 2009.

Prescription assistance is O’Byrne’s job at the clinic, but it wasn’t her calling.

O’Byrne graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and a minor in education and taught history for two and a half years.

When she moved to Georgia, she started at Pacesetter Steel Service Incorporated as an executive secretary. She was the second employee and watched the company grow to over 200 employees, and retired as vice president of the company in 2000.

An active member of Grace Presbyterian, she was part of the original group who signed up to help with the clinic, and was delegated her role.

“When we were organizing the clinic, the woman who was the head at the time had all of us who said we would volunteer get together and ask us what we wanted to do. I said I wanted to be the receptionist, and she said ‘nope, I’ve already got that filled, you’ve got prescription assistance.’ That’s how it happened,” O’Byrne said.

Now, the clinic serves hundreds of people each year who live, work or go to school in the county and are between the ages of 18 and 64, as well as have income 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline or lower. It has grown from the basement to a 5,000 square feet of space in a professional medical building behind the Burger King.

With that growth, O’Byrne has maintained the clinic’s mission to help patients obtain drugs they couldn’t otherwise afford.

“My job hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten broader,” she said.

In her role with prescription assistance, O’Byrne obtains medications from drug company foundations at no cost for a year’s period of time, which requires massive amounts of paperwork, she said.

“But last year we provided over $800,000 worth of drugs to our patients at no cost,” she said. “That’s just from drug company foundations.”

In addition to the drug foundations, a pharmacist at the clinic obtains drugs from Dawson Pharmacy and Good Pill, another 501(c)(3) in Dawsonville. Drugs from the pharmacy normally have to be paid for, and account for the largest expenditures the clinic incurs each year.

The clinic is open on Thursdays, but doctors often come in throughout the week as well. O’Byrne works all Thursday and during the week to get the work done, along with a team of four part time volunteers.

She doesn’t mind the hard work, just how unstreamlined the process is to obtain free mediation.

Everyone is treated individually, and each prescription ordered by a doctor requires a separate application, O’Byrne explained. Refills are not automatic, and the paperwork can vary greatly from foundation to foundation, which is the most time consuming part.

The biggest problem the clinic comes up against is insulin, because it must be refrigerated and is extremely expensive.

“If someone needs insulin, they can’t go a day without it,” she said.

O’Byrne found out that a friend of her son was the regional manager of Sanofi, which makes a type of insulin the clinic uses a lot of, and was able to connect with him to get the drug to the clinic so that there is a reserve for patients who run out before more can be obtained.

Working to solve problems, like obtaining high-price insulin, comes naturally to O’Byrne, due in part to her business background.

“One of the things that I did when I was working was to write procedures, and while we haven’t written procedures yet, we’ve pretty much developed them, and that’s helpful,” she said.

Her favorite part of the job is interacting with patients.

“You get to be friends with them, you get to know them, I think the biggest thing is we don’t treat them as ‘you don’t have the money to go to a real doctor, hang tight, we’ll get to you when we get to you,’” she said. “We make them feel as important as we are, or more so.”

Jane Stuckey, chair of the clinic’s board of directors, said that in addition to her assigned job, O’Byrne will help wherever help is needed, even answering the phones and helping check patients in.

“It’s all about helping the patients for her,” Stuckey said. “She’s probably one of the most kind people to everyone, patients and doctors and other volunteers, that I’ve ever witnessed in the healthcare environment. People would be going without medication in Dawson County if she didn’t do this job.”

Above all, spreading the word of Christ is O’Byrne’s primary mission.

“The camaraderie of being with other people and the joy I get from meeting the patients and figuring out what they need and how I can best help them, that’s just very fulfilling to me,” O’Byrne said. “And hopefully I’m showing Christ’s love to them, that’s my bottom line intent.”