Uninsured and under-insured, these are the people free clinics serve throughout the state of West Virginia. In the northern panhandle area, even some counties in Ohio are served by the local Health Right clinic in Wheeling. The eastern panhandle Good Samaritan is the only facility of its kind in the most populated portion of the state. North Central West Virginia can find health care services at Health Access, Inc., in Clarksburg. The following is just a short review of the many services, health care, and wellness programs these free clinics provide for residents of our communities, even outside of a global pandemic.
Good Samaritan Free Health Care
Good Samaritan Free Health Care, located in Martinsburg, WV, is a faith-based health clinic smack in the downtown area. Executive Director, Cosby Potter-Davis has worked in health care for over 40 years and recently invited us to the facility for an interview and story collection efforts. Readers can listen to a portion of that interview in our first story collection podcast, via this MP3 Listeners can hear how the volunteers at Good Samaritan shifted gears for treatment and community wellness during the corona-virus pandemic and reported to the local Rescue Mission daily for those residents (men’s shelter).
The facility invites all uninsured and under-insured individuals for examination, treatment, and health care. The triage center contains two chairs and is straight back through the opening door, then patients are taken to one of three rooms for further examination. Many of the patients at the clinic are older adults who live in the area, as these folks are on a fixed income (Social Security) and cannot afford the multiple “optional” portions of Medicare.
Lena Williams is one of the many patients who gets her medical services provided in part by the clinic, “They are really good with patients. They dig deep to find out what it is that’s going on with you. They take their time to really find out what’s going on and what’s your issues.” As an older and retired adult, she relies on her fixed income of Social Security and she lives with her daughter in Martinsburg which provides her financial security, as without this option of staying with her daughter, “It wouldn’t be possible for me to do much of anything.” Lena shared how both medication costs and even food purchases might be troublesome. The accessibility of free healthcare from Good Samaritan is vital to her lively hood, “The free clinic is important to me because I can go there and I’m treated with respect and dignity. If I need a medication I can’t afford and they have it, they give it to me freely.”
Wheeling Health Right
Thanks to the connections and friendship Cosby has with a fellow Alderson-Broaddus College (now Alderson Broaddus University) alumna, our next trip took West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC) to Wheeling, to meet with the Health Right Executive Director Kathie Brown, along with her staff and a very special patient.
Upon arrival, just like Good Samaritan, it was easy to notice Wheeling Health Right also had a small community garden outside of their facility. One of the many programs Health Right offers for the general wellness of its patients and community members is a program in partnership with GROW Mid-Ohio Valley called “Farmacy.” Programs like these are popping up across the country aimed at educating and providing fresh foods for low income and vulnerable populations.
Serving over 26,000 patients in six West Virginia counties and four Ohio counties, on the day of our visit our story collection coordinator was able to witness one of their patients receiving his free dentures. George Long is a 55-year-old happy and energetic West Virginian. Living and working in Wheeling, he can be caught singing songs wherever he goes. According to the staff at Health Right, “Georgie” always sings while in the clinic, most likely his favorite song “One in a Million You” by Larry Gram.
George getting dentures fitted - June 2020
George shared that for years, he would have a 30 pack of beer, a liter of McMasters, and two blunts with him every day, occasionally going to meetings for a few years but since April 6th, 2018 he has been in recovery. Working hard at his job at a local cemetery, singing with his church, and rebuilding relationships with his children, to catch George on the day he received his dentures was a happy day for all, “My mother’s gonna be happy, my preacher’s gonna be happy, but nobody is as happy as me.”
George practicing his annunciation post dentures
Health Right is there to help the community and it is cyclical and paid forward, George noted “I just want to help people, because people helped me.” Occasionally, patients even bring in food for the 29 staff members (14 of which are part-time) and doctors who are volunteers. Breaking the stereotype of “free handouts” Health Right and the programs they direct are aimed at aiding in development and wellness.
Mobile Care Unit
According to Kathie, “We have a list of chronically ill patients we teach to eat healthy. We teach them because we want to empower them to teach their children to eat better than them.” Providing lifesaving medical services for patients who are under the 200% Federal Poverty Line (FPL) has been vital for the community for nearly two decades. Dee Philipps, administrator, shared, “Most of our patients have jobs. They are the working poor. People used to just work two jobs but now they work 3-4 part time jobs just to make ends meet – employers count all the hours to get out of benefits. Then every time something (manufacturing businesses in the area) closes Health Right gets the knock on the door.” West Virginia has seen its fair share of businesses closing and leaving. When the state’s coal companies, steel manufacturing, etc. over the years close up shop, free clinics such as Health Right step in.
Kathie mentioned, “There is a huge need. There are way more uninsured and under-insured people than anyone wants to acknowledge” and Jim Harris from Health Access in Clarksburg, WV agrees with that same concern.
Dental Making Equipment
All of the directors agree with the need and demand, especially with the Coronavirus pandemic and recession. They all rely on support from donors, volunteers, and other businesses or educational institutions throughout the state.
Health Access, Inc.
Health Access, Inc. serves a two-county radius and its range of patients include, “self-employed, entrepreneurs, grandmas, grandpas, real estate agents, hairdressers, service workers” according to Joshua Brown, Clinical Coordinator. These patients have access to not only to physician appointments, check-ups, and services but also the new dental program which was established in January 2020, pre-pandemic, and they are one of the many free clinics throughout the state which host the WVU Eye Institute’s Mobile Clinic.
Dental X-Ray Machine
“We like to be the clinic of yes,” said Jim Harris. An onsite pharmacy that is a part of the process. The relationship was formed from the beginning in 1992 with Mylan Pharmaceuticals which provides support to the pharmacy with both prescription medications and over the counter products. Health Access believes in the empowerment of health and wellness, “It is not a ‘do to you’ service/model, it is a ‘do with you.’ All of our patients are co-morbid. They have to struggle to survive. They are champions in my book.” The theme of providing needed wellness services then empowering West Virginians to make a change is present among all of the free clinics interviewed.
Each of the directors acknowledge the length of time they have been in operation, respectively. Each of them mentioned how the clinics were to be a “temporary solution” for the communities until legislators and policy makers could find a better solution for West Virginians. These clinics were all established nearly 20 years ago.
Each of the free clinics mentioned the importance of working with advocacy organizations such as West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and the Health Care for All WV Campaign, and West Virginians who share their health care stories will be the catalyst in finally making these policy changes.
To learn how we can advocate for the uninsured and under-insured populations that the free clinics are serving, along with every single West Virginian, check out our website at https://www.healthcareforallwv.com/
Both Health Access, Inc. and Wheeling Health Right partner with the WVU Eye Institute and had eye screenings and eye glass sizing for patients at the end of June 2020. Supporters will be able to read two West Virginian’s stories on health care from the day they visited Health Access, Inc. on the Health Care for All West Virginia website at the end of August.
If you would like to learn more about any of the free clinics and their services, check out their websites here:
Good Samaritan Free Health Care – https://www.goodsamaritanfreeclinic.org/
Wheeling Health Right - https://www.wheelinghealthright.com/
Health Access, Inc. - https://healthaccessinc.org/