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Mercy Heart free clinic set to open in January
Helping Hands clinic
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The Mercy Heart Clinic, a free clinic created by First Baptist Church of Conyers, is tentatively set to open in January, planners announced Friday.

"It’s rolling fast," said Darlene Hotchkiss at the Rockdale Health Care Safety Net summit, a gathering organized by the Rockdale United Way to address different health care and health education efforts in the county. "We are going to need your help."

Training for volunteers is scheduled to begin January 5, 2010.

The opening date is Jan. 12 but the first day of actually treating patients is set for Jan. 26.

The clinic will focus on preventative health and treating chronic diseases such as COPD, diabetes, hypertension and asthma in the uninsured and underinsured before they become crisis situations requiring expensive emergency room visits.

"These are basic diseases that with help they can get a handle on," said Hotchkiss.

"What we are looking for down the road is a system of health care clinics that can take this load of patients off the health system," said Ed Conway, executive director of the Lakeview Community Action Committee, one of the supporting organizations. "They’ll be focused on prevention as well as a cure."

The clinic, which is also going to have a dental component, hopes to build a network of doctors and dentists willing to volunteer their time.

The Helping Hands clinic, located at Lakeview Estates and started in 2006 by Tolbert and Janice Morris in addition to Helping Hands’ education and technology branches, already offers free medical services, but not nearly enough to meet the demand it sees, reported Tolbert Morris. At the health fair it held a few months ago, more than 300 people turned out for basic health checkups and services, he said.

With two registered nurses and a physician’s assistant as well as a family physician, the clinic is now able to expand its hours, and is open on Fridays from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. and will be open on Saturdays as well starting next weekend from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Students from Clayton State University will soon be training at the Helping Hands clinic, allowing the clinic to be open for more hours and see more patients.

"We’re revamping," said Morris. "A lot of things did well but weren’t working as well as expected." He said there vision is to have four to six clinics across the county that can serve various sectors of the county.

Rockdale County was without a free health clinic after a clinic called Healing Hands closed after 10 years of operation due to escalating costs of insurance for doctors.

State laws recently changed to cover the insurance for doctors donating time and services, making it possible for Helping Hands and Mercy Heart to operate free clinics.

"It has made it possible for doctors to avoid risk when they volunteer their talent and their time," said Conway.

For more information, contact First Baptist Church of Conyers at 770-483-8700.