As a disabled widower with a child at home, Robert Duncan says making ends meet has been very difficult. But in March, he learned about a free healthcare clinic that had just opened at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, near his Newport home. Today, both his health and his attitude are faring much better.
“Before, what I had been doing is just really struggling,” he recalled, as a St. Elizabeth nurse checked his blood pressure one May evening.
“But, I’ve been coming here for three months and I feel better now. The nurses here have been excellent. They go a little bit past just doing their jobs here. They really show me consideration and humanity and compassion. A lot of people wouldn’t do that.”
Perhaps “a lot of people wouldn’t do that,” but the two St. Elizabeth Healthcare nurses who started this clinic in March said that after they saw the need for the service firsthand, they almost had to do what it took to make it a reality.
St. Elizabeth Ft. Thomas Transitional Care Unit Nurse, Tracy Hagood, and Unit Nurse Manager, Lisa Bowman, decided to create the free clinic after they volunteered at the Court Place church’s weekly food pantry last year and noticed that many of those showing up for food, also desperately needed medical care.
“People at the pantry — once they found out we were nurses — started asking us all kinds of questions about their medical care and their medications because most of these people don’t have physicians and they needed attention,” said Ms. Bowman. “So, you know, we just looked at each other and were like, ‘Now we know why we’re doing this.'”
“It was just like the light switch went on,” Ms. Hagood added. “It was obvious what we needed to do. You know, sometimes you start seeing things and then you can’t turn a blind eye to it anymore. It’s just there.”
A weekly gift of health to the needy
Now, less than a year after the two nurses had that initial revelation, the free clinic is “there” every Wednesday evening in a small basement room the church graciously devoted to the effort. By late spring, 23 St. Elizabeth Healthcare nurses had also joined the effort, volunteering to serve a few hours each month.
Each week, the nurses descend on the room, stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs in hand, to treat whatever ailments those in need bring their way. By late spring, about a dozen people were showing up each Wednesday night to be seen for everything from blood sugar monitoring, to more urgent concerns that mandated trips to the nearest Emergency Department.
The free clinic is operated in conjunction with the church’s weekly food pantry, which serves hundreds of local needy families each month. As the two nurses predicted, the food pantry has supplied a steady stream of clients to the clinic, many of whom have neglected their health for a while and are very sick. One goal of the clinic is to turn that trend around. “Most of the people who come in are from Newport and Bellevue … and there’s a certain population who are living under the (Taylor-Southgate) bridge,” Ms. Hagood said.
“We just saw one man from down there who had a wound on his foot. … We also see a lot of patients here who have been on our unit. Some of them are congestive heart failure patients, and we’re hoping if they start coming here and doing more of the things they need to stay healthy, it will decrease the chances they’ll be readmitted or have to go to the Emergency Department. If they come here, we can really help people stay on track.”
That’s exactly what Newport resident, Sandra Graham was trying to do when she visited the clinic in May. She said she hopes her regular trips there for blood pressure monitoring will help fend off another major health crisis.
“I just want to make sure the medicine is still working,” said Ms. Graham. “By coming here, I keep updated on everything so I know I’m alright, because I don’t want to have another stroke. … I’m also telling my friends about this because a lot of them don’t go to the doctor because they don’t have doctors.”
Clinic nurses work hard to connect patients with sources of regular medical care, including a primary care physician who can keep track of their health long-term. In fact, Ms. Bowman and Ms. Hagood hope to recruit a physician, a nurse practitioner, a dentist and a few other health professionals to join their efforts at the clinic in the months ahead.
Few doubt that these two determined nurses will fail to attract such talent to their efforts. After all, this time last year there was no clinic and people like Robert Duncan were going without the medical care they needed because they simply couldn’t afford it. But, thanks to the extraordinary vision and energy of two St. Elizabeth nurses, Duncan’s not only healthier today, but so is the community he lives in.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words why I do this,” said Ms. Bowman. “It’s just that I think, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ After all, I’m fortunate to have what I have in my life, so why wouldn’t I help somebody else out?”
“This,” says Ms. Hagood, “is what we’re called to do as human beings and as nurses – to care for people – and not just when we’re clocked in. This is really the true fabric of our profession.”
This is a special advertising supplement, paid for by St. Elizabeth Healthcare