Samaritan Clinic Open: Now seeing patients on Wednesdays 9 a.m.-noon
By Alex McRae
The Newnan Times-Herald
Sometimes, it takes some muscle to make a miracle happen.
After more than two years of prayer, persistence and perspiration, the Coweta Samaritan Clinic opened quietly in October, bringing hope, help and a healthy dose of encouragement to uninsured Coweta County residents who have medical needs but no insurance to help the pay the bills.
The Coweta Samaritan Clinic’s stated goal is to “provide quality healthcare and compassionate support in a faith-based environment…” Clinic administrators and volunteers are quick to say that without faith, the clinic would still be a dream.
"It’s been an amazing story," says Lou Graner, who serves as CSC’s executive director. "It’s Coweta citizens taking care of their neighbors. I can’t say what a rich and compelling experience this has been. The community has been supportive and volunteers are excited at the opportunity this ministry has provided."
With the exception of Graner and Nurse Administrator Peggie Lawson, the clinic is staffed entirely by volunteers and funded entirely by private donations. The volunteers and donors didn’t come together by accident. They rallied in response to a plan proposed by Newnan physician Dr. Kay Crosby.
More than two years ago, Crosby began exploring the possibility of opening a free clinic to provide medical care to Coweta residents who had no health insurance and did not qualify for other programs like Medicaid.
"This is all Kay’s vision," Graner says. "And it’s great to see it come to reality."
Crosby believes many problems can be cured with a huge dose of hard work, but she says she still can’t believe how eagerly the community embraced her vision.
"I am overwhelmed," Crosby says. "There’s no other word for it. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone, overwhelmed by the volunteer support, overwhelmed by the complexity of the patients we see, overwhelmed by patient gratitude and overwhelmed by the other doctors in the community who have volunteered their support."
Crosby says the longer she pursued her vision, the more convinced she became that she was doing the right thing.
"I feel like I was called to do this," she says. "I feel like God has been preparing me for this all my life."
Crosby says opening a free clinic offers challenges whose solutions are not discussed in medical school.
"In additional to providing medical care, one of the most important things we do is give our patients hope," Crosby says. "But it’s a different way of practicing medicine. It’s a whole different mindset here. In private practice I was used to ordering tests or referring a patient to a specialist and never worrying about how that was going to be reimbursed. That’s not the case here. We have to watch every penny, and we spend an amazing amount of time trying to coordinate care for the next step of the process, whether it’s getting lab services donated or working with other specialists to provide treatment we don’t offer. It’s a big undertaking, but I can’t say how grateful I am to everyone who is helping us make it all happen."
Graner, who was one of Crosby’s earliest supporters, is a CPA with an economics degree from Duke University and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Graner worked 10 years with The Hardin Companies in Atlanta, then served for nine years as senior development officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation. Graner also worked as chief development officer for Atlanta Union Mission, where he helped guide a successful $15 million capital campaign.
Graner says he has been overwhelmed by community support from the beginning of the project and that it was clear the clinic was meant to become a reality.
"It’s been amazing to watch all the pieces fall into place," he says.
Volunteer support was strong from the beginning, but finding the right location was a major obstacle. That piece of the puzzle fell into place when the Coweta County Health Department began building a new facility on Hospital Road and a decision had to be made about how best to utilize the health department’s former building at 137 Jackson St. in Newnan.
The Coweta County Hospital Authority held meetings with Crosby and with the support of the Coweta County Commission, a deal was finalized under which the hospital authority agreed to lease the former health department building to the CSC for $1 per year for 10 years if operational funding could be secured.
That need was largely met when the Newnan Hospital Foundation pledged $100,000 in annual support for 10 years toward the clinic’s projected $250,000 annual operating budget. Volunteer pledges are in place to provide the additional operational funding.
Piedmont Newnan Hospital has agreed to provide lab and radiology services at no charge, and many churches and individuals have made gifts to the clinic. Recently, the clinic received a large capital grant from the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation and 2011 fundraisers produced more than $60,000 to go towards operating expenses.
Local civic groups and service clubs have also been generous in their support of the clinic, as have individuals.
"I’m always amazed at how the people of Coweta County will come together to support a worthwhile effort," Graner says. "This is a wonderful example of how truly caring and generous the people of Coweta County are."
The Jackson Street building was refurbished with the assistance of the Coweta County Commission and because the new health department facility was equipped with new furniture, fixtures and medical equipment, the used, but still functional equipment and fixtures in the old health department building were given to the CSC, saving tens of thousands in potential capital costs.
"That’s just another example of how this all came together," Graner says.
As the building plans took shape, volunteer staffers were added. In addition to Crosby, longtime Newnan physician Dr. Earnest Barron — who “officially” retired years ago — dusted off his stethoscope and volunteered his services during the one day each week patients are seen at the clinic.
"I never dreamed this clinic could be such a blessing," Barron said. "It’s a joy to be here."
Nurse Practitioner Rhonda Whitton also volunteered her services to round out the clinic’s first medical team.
The first patients were seen on Oct. 5. Some of the original patients were referred by Alice Jackson of the Coweta County Health Department and Derenda Rowe, director of One Roof ecumenical Outreach.
Patients are only seen on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. The original patient load was kept small until medical staff and volunteers were comfortable with treatment methods and procedures, available equipment and the patient screening and intake process.
Graner points out that medical staff spend more time than expected with patients, but going the extra mile is at the heart of the clinic’s mission. Much of that time is spent gathering detailed medical histories from patients who have not seen a doctor for a long time and more importantly, getting to know patients as individuals.
"We might spend from 45 minutes to an hour and a half with a new patient and that’s unheard of in a traditional setting," Graner says. "But we feel it’s important to spend extra time with our patients, not just to assess their medical situation but to get to know them and most of all, to make sure they know that we care about them as a person. We want to give these people a sense of worth, to let them know they are important."
The volunteers who man the front reception area, run back office operations and help with patient care are sold on the idea. It is expressed in a declaration of values which is printed and hangs in several places around the clinic. It says, “The values of Coweta Samaritan Clinic are compassion, excellence, integrity, patience, respect, servanthood, teamwork and tolerance.”
Newnan’s Norma Haynes was an early volunteer and was at the front desk the day the clinic opened in October.
"This clinic is a blessing for Coweta County, and it’s a blessing to be part of it"’ Haynes says. "I look forward to it every week. The people are so grateful, the volunteers are beyond excellence and we feel like we get more out of it than the patients."
Currently the clinic is seeing 35-40 patients each week. Medical treatment is only offered from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Prospective new patients are screened for eligibility on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. New patients screenings are currently limited to the first 25 visitors each week.
Graner is hopeful that clinic hours may be expanded in the first quarter of 2012 to allow additional patients to be seen on Saturday mornings or a weekday evening, which may be the only times potential patients who have jobs but no insurance can be seen.
Graner points out that since the recession began, the number of people who lost health insurance coverage along with their jobs is growing rapidly and not likely to slow down soon. He hopes that as the need grows, the Coweta Samaritan Clinic may be able to serve more patients, but says that option is totally dependent on two things.
"We can only expand if we get more medical volunteers and more money," Graner says.
Currently appointments are booked until February 2012. And the staff has been busy. Graner reports that as of Dec. 13, 2011, 172 patients have been screened for eligibility, there have been 324 patients visits and 125 different patients have been cared for. More than 40 volunteers are currently involved to make it all happen.
Right now, there is no rush to expand services. Graner says the clinic wants to make sure the operation is running smoothly and efficiently before new physicians are asked to donate their services.
"We want to make sure we have good facilities and procedures in place so that when new doctors come here they have a good experience," Graner says. "Right now it’s more important that we do everything to the best of our ability."
Those wishing to make donations to the Coweta Samaritan Clinic may send them to P.O. Box 963, Newnan, Ga., 30264 or make donations online at www.cowetasamaritanclinic.org.
Potential patients desiring more information may visit the website or call the clinic at 770-683-5272.