All posts by webmaster

Low-income patients get medical help at St. Mary Catholic Church


It’s been a while since Larry Holmes last saw a doctor, despite the pains in his chest and the occasional flare-ups of gout.

“It’s been over a year,” Holmes said Wednesday in the waiting room of the newly opened health clinic on the grounds of St. Mary Catholic Church.

Holmes, who is 57 and unemployed, has looked for manual labor jobs, a difficult prospect given the economy and his health problems, he said.

“I’m trying to get my health right,” Holmes said.

The clinic at St. Mary’s, which treats low-income patients who don’t have public or private insurance, opened last week in an attempt to increase much-needed access to health care.

It’s an addition to a free dental clinic that opened more than a year ago at St. Mary’s to treat uninsured people with acute dental problems.

The clinic’s executive director, Laura Vinson-Garvey, sits on the board of Cape Fear HealthNet, a nonprofit collaboration of safety-net providers and social service agencies focused on health options for the uninsured poor.

As the weak economy caused a jump in people without health coverage, the board has gotten concerned about the community’s low-income and free clinics becoming filled to maximum capacity and unable to take on new patients.

Vinson-Garvey worried about patients who came to the dental clinic but had to wait for their extractions until they saw a doctor to get their high blood pressure under control.

“There was basically nowhere for people to go to get their hypertension treated. Some of them had strokes (while they were) waiting to be seen,” she said, adding that the Ann Street clinic decided to help out with the space available to them.

Through a wholly volunteer effort, the clinic added three medical exam rooms with tables given to them by New Hope Clinic from the Brunswick County free clinic’s recent move.

St. Mary’s donates clinic spaces next to the church’s gym near where the Tileston free health clinic used to operate before it moved in 2007. A handful of doctors rotate days to see patients three times a week. All of the office staff besides Vinson-Garvey is made up of volunteers.

Since the medical appointments started, the doctors have seen about 10 patients per clinic, which run two or three hours at a time.

Vinson-Garvey said a number of patients have issues with high blood pressure or diabetes. Many have not seen a doctor in more than a year. And some are newly unemployed and uninsured, jumping back and forth between meeting and not meeting the eligibility requirements for Medicaid.

“They don’t have a medical home,” she said.

Nearly 27,900 people in New Hanover County, or about 15 percent of the population, are uninsured, according to the latest census estimates about health coverage.

The estimates, from the 2008 American Community Survey, also showed that 27 percent of Brunswick County residents, or 27,500 people, reported not having health insurance.

“All of the safety-net partners are stretched,” said Tami Eldridge, executive director for Cape Fear HealthNet. “The demand for services continues to grow. Although Cape Fear HealthNet (member groups) are trying to do everything they can, it’s just outstripping our ability to provide increased services. The addition of St. Mary’s to the scene is a wonderful addition.”

Vicky Eckenrode: 343-2339

On @vickyeckenrode

St. Mary Health Center

412 Ann St., 520-7218

Clinic hours: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hours vary; call for details.

Eligibility: Free for those 200 percent or less of poverty guidelines. Patients must show proof of income and are asked to give a $10 donation if they can.

County, volunteers, staff celebrate New Hope Clinic’s new facility


By Carolyn Bowers
StarNews correspondent

Published: Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:07 a.m.

The staff, volunteers and supporters of New Hope Clinic celebrated the official opening of its new facility on July 17 with guided tours, refreshments, live music, speeches and three separate ribbon cuttings.

Representatives from each of the three local chambers of commerce – Brunswick County, North Brunswick and Southport-Oak Island – cut their respective ribbons, symbolizing the county’s support for this answer to the need for free medical and dental care.

Gretchen Bodinsky, president and chairman of the board, acknowledged Dr. Ziaollah Hashemi in her opening remarks as “the one who first recognized the need for a free clinic in Brunswick County in 1998,” and the one who started the first clinic. She recalled that when she told Irene Hennessey, one of the major donors for that first clinic, about the event, Hennessey said, “Hallelujah! It’s about time.”

Bodinsky told an audience of more than 200 friends, volunteers and supporters that the clinic is run by only four paid staff members, along with a volunteer staff of 130 doctors, nurses, physician assistants, dentists, pharmacists, and administrative personnel who handled more than 4,000 patient visits last year.

She then put in a brief plug for the clinic’s Building Fund Campaign.

The campaign is now fullyunder way. An elegant Donor Recognition Tree is mounted in the main lobby of the new building.

Supporters may have their name and a message permanently imprinted on a gold, silver, or bronze leaf. There are also some named gift opportunities still available to sponsor, including a medical exam room, a dental operatory or lab, patient eligibility rooms and doctors’ office.

Dr. Karen Wood, New Hope Clinic medical director, paid tribute to former executive director Connie Hendrix, who “made the clinic her life,” and said that “without her we wouldn’t be here today.” She told the crowd that Atlantic Realty real estate broker “David Berne not only donated the land, but he is the one who really spearheaded this project.”

She expressed her gratitude for the great job being done by Bodinsky and Sheila Roberts, executive director of the clinic.

Next she recognized the many hours and dedicated service of longtime volunteers Dave Anderson, Barbara Lidoski, Dr. Sid Fortney, Pam Johnson, Dora Loflin, Lynn Kuhn, Pat Hagerty, and Carmela Groce.

Nicole Lamoureux, executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics commented on the importance of free clinics nationwide and assured the crowd that, in spite of the newly passed health care legislation, “free clinics will always be needed.”

State Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, promised to “hook up folks from here to the folks in Raleigh.”

Last on the agenda, Southport-Oak Island Kiwanis Club President Dennis O’Connor presented Roberts with a $1,000 check to fund the children’s play area in the main lobby.

Lynn Kuhn, guiding a tour through the new building, contrasted it with the smaller former facility.

“This is an eligibility room,” she said. “And it’s really great because it’s no longer a bathroom.”

For more information, or to volunteer or make a tax-free donation, please call (910) 845-5333.