09/06/04 — Many served at free health clinic

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Many served at free health clinic

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 6, 2004 1:56 PM

FREMONT -- On the third Saturday of each month, Clifton Willingham of Wilson drives to Fremont and waits his turn at the People's Free Health Clinic.

He said he has been coming for two years, since he first learned about it from his sister.

"I have diabetes," he says. "I had lost so much weight, I needed help."

The 33-year-old said his weight had dropped to 135 pounds. Since attending the clinic, it has stabilized at 185 pounds.

He says the doctors have given him useful information and have written prescriptions for medications he needs. His visits now are more to monitor his progress.

"I feel comfortable when I come here," he said. "It's a long wait but it's worth it."

The Rev. James King lives in Fremont and says he has been a patient since the clinic first opened in 1989. He says he has been pleased with the help he's received.

"They don't sit around and wonder if you have got the money or not," he said. "They're ready to go."

He said he has also appreciated being able to see the same doctors each time.

"Anybody looking for a place to go, I recommend this to them," he said. "I have never been here that they couldn't see me."

Clinic hours are from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., but Doris Hall, director from the beginning, said it is not unusual for patients to arrive as early as 9:30 to sign up. On average, between 15 and 30 patients are seen each time the doors are open.

The clinic grew out of health fairs that were first organized in rural communities by local organizations and the N.C. Student Rural Health Coalition.

In 1987, the coalition decided to start clinics in several communities. The Fremont location serves Wayne and Wilson counties. Other clinics are in Northampton County, Whitakers, Shiloh in Wake County, and Halifax County. Each is staffed by volunteers who work with doctors and medical students from the University of North Carolina as well as East Carolina, Duke and N.C. Central universities.

"The whole purpose was to get community people to get some control over what they can do to help themselves," Mrs. Hall said.

Services are free or very low cost. Patients are seen for such needs as monitoring blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol; physical exams; pap smears; breast exams; pregnancy tests; and nutrition advice.

The clinic typically caters to patients who have little or no insurance.

"Some have insurance," Mrs. Hall said, "but don't have the money to pay the co-pay."

She said donations are accepted, but are not a prerequisite.

"It's about helping people that need help," she said. "We feel like the health care should be free. That's the main purpose."

The Fremont clinic was originally in a house on Vance Street that was rented until a trailer was donated. It has been at home on Ward Street since November 2000.

Bessie Artis, clinic chairman, said the town has paid a lot of the expenses, but money is always needed.

The doctors usually bring their own medical supplies, she said, but such items as toilet paper and paper towels must be regularly replaced. Now, she said, the most pressing need is underpinning for the trailer, which is high off the ground and a potential hazard to children playing underneath.

"The town absorbs our heating and electricity bill," Mrs. Hall said. "We don't want to make it more expensive than we have to, so underpinning would also help with insulation."

She said that in addition to adult volunteers, an internship program is offered for high school students who have a possible interest in the health field.

"We take high school students and let them work in the clinic all year," Mrs. Hall said. "We talk to them about health careers and let them do a report at the end of the year."

She said about 200 students have gone through the program since it began in 1991. In addition to working at the clinic, there have been seminars and visits to Duke and other medical schools where they had the opportunity to go on rounds and view surgeries.

Needs have a way of being provided, Mrs. Hall says.

"The biggest thing I have found was that so many people are willing to help other people," she said. "It's amazing that the doctors and the students over all these years have come without pay."

She said the doctors have been faithful, often spending at least 30 minutes with each patient. Different doctors have come over the years.

Dr. Charles Beauchamp from Duke University has been the physician for the last three years, Mrs. Hall said. He is accompanied by a half dozen of his medical students.

"This is an experience for them to learn that they're needed in the rural areas," she said.

The hope is that one day the clinic will be open twice a month.

"People need follow-up," Mrs. Hall said.

She also expressed concern that people who live the closest are not taking advantage of the service.

"What concerns me is that more people come from Wilson and Goldsboro than from Fremont," she said. "I know there are many people here that need the services, but for some reason they don't want people to think they need help that's free.

"If they can't pay, we don't look to see who's dropping the money in for donations."