Inspired by the presidential election of 2008 in which healthcare services for the uninsured became a hotly debated topic, two Georgia Southern students decided to form an organization to address that issue on a local level.
Last August, pre-med majors Andres Montes and Emmie Boyer created a grassroots organization to establish a free healthcare clinic in Statesboro called the "Committee for the Clinic". The group was comprised of 40 Georgia Southern students from different majors, backgrounds, races, and creeds.
After four months of hard work, the Committee found a location for the clinic, put together a team of volunteer healthcare professionals, created a community board of directors, and aligned the clinic with the national organization, Volunteers in Medicine.
Slated to open in August 2009 in the offices of the Ogeechee River Baptist Association on North College Street, the Hearts and Hands Clinic will be staffed with volunteer physicians, dentists, psychologists, and nurses, and will be open two Saturdays each month.
Dr. Edgar Johnson, director of the Ogeechee River Baptist Association in Statesboro, said the clinic is meeting a tremendous need and will serve as an excellent outreach.
"We are always looking for a way to do missions in our area," Johnson said. "Andres called and asked us about using our building, and we jumped on the opportunity to help. It is what we are here for, to help those around us."
Johnson said his offices will be turned into examining and waiting rooms, and that is perfectly fine with him.
"These young people have put in so much effort and hard work to make this a reality," he said. "We are happy to do whatever we can to support their efforts. We agree that there is a real need in this community for a clinic like this. We think it will help a lot of people."
Montes said that he has approached Bob Bigley, CEO of East Georgia Regional Hospital in Statesboro, seeking support for the clinic.
"The Hearts and Hands Clinic can be a very positive thing, and I applaud their efforts and hope that they are successful," Bigley said. "In the past, the issue of follow-up care has been problematic for these types of clinics, but hopefully they will be able to address that. I am going to present the clinic and its needs to our Board of Trustees in two weeks to see what kind of support we can give them."
Montes and Boyer said the last remaining obstacle to opening the clinic at this point is financial support.
"We will need to raise some money for operating costs," Boyer said. "Even though the time of the healthcare professionals is donated, we still have the costs of supplies and the like. We are in the process completing plans for fundraising efforts at this time."
Basic supplies listed as needed by the clinic include basic sample medications, needles, syringes, suturing supplies, IV supplies, diabetes management supplies, and examination supplies and equipment.
"The clinic will run solely off donations," Montes said. "The donations will cover expenses incurred from operating costs such as business insurance, supplies, hazard waste removal, and janitorial services. Our initial opening cost has been calculated to be around $52,000. We project that we will be able to raise that and meet our target opening next August."
Montes said Georgia Southern students will work in the clinic, but not provide health care. "We are there to learn and to serve," he said. "We will help with organization, record keeping, and processing of information. In addition, we will help our health care professionals as is needed and appropriate."
Both Boyer and Montes echoed a sentiment that many local residents may be surprised to hear.
"The citizens of Statesboro are so gracious to host 18,000 Georgia Southern students, and we just wanted to give something back," said Montes. "In the state of Georgia, there are about 1.6 million citizens who are medically uninsured, with 22.5 percent of those located in the southeast region of the state. We feel that this is a way to help the community that has been so great to all of us."
The clinic's board of directors includes Dr. Edgar Johnson, Christy Balbo, Dr. Todd Deal, Tony Deal, Dr. Dontarie Stallings, Ally Racokzy, Dr. Bryant Smalley, Dr. Ismael Montes, Cathy Montes, Emmie Boyer, Betsy Hanberry, and Dr. Jacob Warren.
The official name of the clinic is The Hearts and Hands Clinic, INC: A Volunteers in Medicine Alliance and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. To learn more about the clinic, you can visit their website at www.theheartsandhandsclinic.com. Montes serves as president and CEO of the organization and can be reached at (912)344-8463.
To learn more about Volunteers in Medicine you can visit their website at www.volunteersinmedicine.org.