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Posted: February 15, 2008 3:00 a.m.

Willing helpers

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Paper work: Willing Helpers Medical Clinic Director Ed Jenkins, left, and volunteer Pat Cardwell sort and prepare medical files for patients who have appointments for Thursday evening’s free medical clinic held at Solid Rock Baptist Church. Photo...

The Willing Helpers Medical Clinic is a ministry of Solid Rock Baptist Church, located at 8111 Brown Bridge Road. The clinic opened in October 2006 as a non profit effort of local medical professionals seeking to improve the health of approximately 10,000 uninsured people in Newton County. The medical director is Dr. Timothy Park, MD, and the clinic director is Ed Jenkins. RPH. Nursing co-directors are Dorothy Robinson, RN, and Yolunda Goldston, RN.

The mission statement of Willing Helpers Medical Clinic is to serve as a healthcare provider for indigent, homeless and working poor who have no insurance and are unable to pay medical services.

Funded by contributions, donations and grants from national, state, and local organizations, clinical services are provided at no cost to those who qualify. The Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program enacted in 2005 is used as a guideline, and eligible patient criteria is the source of patient eligibility.

In January 2006, the Rev. Mike Franklin, pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church, with retired pharmacist Ed Jenkins and several other members of Solid Rock Baptist Church visited a free clinic at Leesburg First Baptist Church, Leesburg, Fla., which had been in existence for approximately 20 years. Located on four acres, they operated a clinic, two homeless shelters, a women's crisis center, a food pantry, a clothing store, a furniture outlet and two foster homes - one for long term and one for a safe house. The group returned with a vision to model a similar operation on Solid Rock's 26-acre grounds. Several visits were made to other free or indigent care clinics in the greater Atlanta area with the purpose of gathering information.

A needs assessment was done in the Newton County area with demographics in the areas of population, occupation, educational attainment, medical insurance and income.

With the help of Georgia State University School of Nursing, Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett county health departments and various other local organizations, a plan was developed to open a free clinic on the grounds of Solid Rock Baptist Church. Jenkins said he networks with 15 free clinics in the Atlanta area that meet as a group and discuss issues.

Already booked into March, the clinic sees an average of 30-40 patients who are 12 years and older on Thursdays only from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Those seeking appointments may call on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon. Services include non-emergency care, basic laboratory testing, EKG, Christian support and referrals to health department and other participating providers. Registered nurses, specialists and dieticians volunteer their time to teach courses on topics such as diabetes and smoking cessation.

"Of the 1,100 people we saw our first year, most were diabetics and people with high blood pressure," said clinic director Ed Jenkins. "People come here and leave totally amazed. When you can see 30 to 40 people in three hours and it runs so smoothly, you know it is God. It is a blessing to see God do this and we are here strictly to do his work."

Solid Rock helps to fund the clinic and provides the building space which is shared by youth on another night. Patients come into the waiting area until the nurses are ready to do their medical screening. Lab work and respiratory therapy are available if needed. After the patient sees the doctor, they go to discharge. Before the patient exits, there are six prayer counselors sitting at the table who ask if they would like prayer before they leave.

"One out of 20 turns down the invitation to pray, said Jenkins. "Our counselors are there to talk, pray or cry with them."

Betty Henderson, who retired from CR Bard after 25 years is office manager and maintains the confidentiality of patient files.

"Once you get involved and see what a blessing it is, you can't leave it and want to do more," said Henderson.

According to Jenkins, the average patient is around 40 years old and includes construction workers, people who have lost their jobs and the disabled who have not been approved for disability.

"We have had quite a few patients diagnosed with cancer," said Jenkins. "Right after Christmas, we had a lady come in with an irregular EKG and we sent her to a cardiologist and they did open heart surgery. Without it, she would not have survived."

Walkers, wheel chairs, crutches and walking canes were donated from organizations around the Atlanta area. A local physician donated a $6,000 EKG machine. Newton Medical participates by providing assistance with tests and exams.

The clinic has two doctors' offices and examination rooms with a staff of eight doctors, two physician assistants, three nurse practitioners, 25 nurses, a respiratory therapist, an EKG technician and approximately 50 non-licensed volunteers who serve on a rotating schedule and contributed over a half million dollars worth in labs and man hours last year.

After completing an application and a background check, volunteers must be approved by the state and trained before they can work at the Willing Helpers Medical Clinic. All workers serve under the Volunteer Medical Act signed into law on May 10, 2005 and the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.

"Georgia State is sending out student nurses this week," said Jenkins. "Oxford College is very supportive and some of the faculty has made donations to the clinic."

Ed Jenkins graduated from the Mercer School of Pharmacy and operated Pendley Hills Pharmacy in Decatur for 15 years before moving to Covington. Retired from Newton Medical in 2004, he has four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"This is something that I have always wanted to give back because medicine has been good to me over the years," said Jenkins.

The next goal for the clinic is financial as they propose a plan to build a 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot building. The doctors are in the process of identifying what they want in terms of a building.

"Our board met last week and voted to start a building fund," said the director. "The anticipated cost to build a new clinic is between $300,000 and $500,000. If it is God's will, it will happen. I found this church to be a giving church that wants to help people rather than have a fancy church building. They have a pride in serving God's people."

Donations can be made to the Willing Helpers Medical Clinic. For more information, call (770) 784-0865.

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