The Hearts & Hands Clinic will make its move to a larger, more advanced facility next week.
To celebrate, the nonprofit clinic held a fundraising gala Saturday evening in the Southern Ballroom at Georgia Southern University’s Nessmith-Lane Conference Center.
Calling the move a “leap of faith,” Andres Montes, the founder and CEO of Hearts & Hands, challenged the community to continue its support to provide a safety net for people in need.
“Here in Bulloch County, we show that success comes from citizen helping citizen, from neighbor assisting neighbor and from a stranger lending a helping hand and a heart to another stranger,” said Montes, 24.
Hearts & Hands will skip its usual Tuesday evening clinic time today to make the move from its Son’s Light Fellowship Baptist Church on U.S. Highway 301 South to a leased facility at 127 N. College St. The new clinic is slated to open for appointments on June 12, Executive Director Alvie Coes III said.
More than double the size of the former clinic area at the church, the new facility includes five exam rooms — instead of the previous two — and a dental chair. Hearts & Hands already provided dental care and eye care, as well as medical care, but previously the dental work had to be done by dentists volunteering their time in their own offices.
Montes had no specific announcement Saturday. But in an interview, he said that clinic personnel hope to expand services after about a month in the new location.
“One of the big things for we’re hoping for, especially in the new facility, is the ability to be open more days, and too, involving more nurse practitioners to actually see patients during the daytime instead of only at night, and therefore seeing more patients,” he said.
The move means greater financial responsibilities, he acknowledged, but he added that Hearts & Hands may be able to qualify for more grants, particularly to pay nurse practitioners.
When Jessie Burns first heard that the clinic was opening in fall 2010, her husband had been laid off from his longtime job. Medical insurance available through her own job, she said, was very expensive because the group is so small. She works as a house parent at Joseph’s Home for Boys.
Burns knew she had high blood pressure but hadn’t taken her medication in at least six months. She had been unable to afford a doctor’s visit for a prescription, she said, and had been turned down by other clinics.
When Hearts & Hands accepted Burns among its first patients, she signed up for all three available services — medical, dental and vision. At the clinic, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, got a new prescription for her hypertension and was referred to a nutritionist for diet advice.
“I’ve got a lot of good things to say about Heart & Hands,” she said. “Without them, I’d probably be in worse condition than ever, not having taken my medication and developing other illnesses along with being a Type 2 diabetic and having high blood pressure.”
The new location, she said, will make the clinic accessible to people who had difficulty getting to the former site south of town.
“It’s bigger and it’s close to a lot of low-income places that people can walk if they don’t have a ride, and I say that’s great,” Burns said.
Pastor John Long, who in addition to being the minister at Son’s Light Fellowship is the current Hearts & Hands board president, said the clinic’s new location is “leaps and bounds forward” from the space the church has provided. Long, who wore his black cowboy hat to the gala, sometimes calls people “partner.”
“Partner, I tell you, it’s a blessing,” he said. “I’m excited about the building. It’s just all coming together, and it’s going to enable us to expand our other ministries.”
In particular, Son’s Light Fellowship plans to use the freed-up space to expand its thrift store and remodel its food pantry.
Montes and Long presented an appreciation award Saturday to Dennis Nelson, the president of American General Maintenance, who built the original clinic in the church and, Montes said, has done some remodeling at the new location. They presented another award to Tim Durden, who is renting Hearts & Hands the North College Street building at a discounted rate.
Coes credited Clifton with putting in 2,000 hours of volunteer work at the clinic, and Long spoke of the continuing work of GSU student volunteers.
As keynote speaker at the gala, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said her department and volunteer clinics such as Hearts & Hands share a mission of providing a health-care safety net for Georgians.
Her agency oversees local health departments in all 159 Georgia counties. But free clinics play a vital role, she said, especially in counties such as Bulloch, where according to her statistics, 22 percent of residents have no health insurance. Other speakers said 25 percent, but either way, it’s higher than the state rate of about 20 percent and the national uninsured rate of 16.3 percent.
“The whole notion of having a true safety net, a safety net that is founded by people who believe and who understand the real problems here, is phenomenal and absolutely wonderful,” Fitzgerald said.
The Department of Public Health, she added, seeks to help doctors who volunteer. The department’s Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program provides free malpractice insurance coverage to physicians and other health-care professionals who provide free care in clinics. Additionally, the state grants Continuing Medical Education credits to medical professionals who volunteer.