By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Brandee Reid limped on her way into the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County on Tuesday.
Her feet are so swollen that walking is a struggle. And she’s in a constant state of pain.
For a while, Reid was treating herself, taking ibuprofen and staying off her feet.
She simply couldn’t afford to visit a doctor.
Layoffs at Magna left her jobless last year. Health insurance has always been out of reach because of the expense. And she doesn’t meet the guidelines to qualify for Medicaid.
That’s how she ended up at the Community Care Clinic.
The clinic provides free medical and dental care as well as prescriptions to Rowan County residents in need.
Since visiting the clinic, Reid has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She’s now under the care of rheumatologist Dr. Gordon Senter, who’s hoping to get the pain and swelling under control within a few months.
“This place has been a lifesaver,” Reid said. “I don’t have any other place to go.”
With only seven paid staff members, some of whom are part time, the clinic can’t operate without volunteers.
And Tisa Thompson, the clinic’s assistant director, said with an influx of patients, the clinic needs volunteers now more than ever.
The number of patients visiting the clinic has more than quadrupled since 2007. That year, more than 330 patients walked through the door. This year, 1,930 patients have already been seen.
The number of dental patients relying on the clinic has nearly doubled, from 366 in 2007 to 643 this year.
But Thompson said the number of volunteers has dwindled, making it harder to meet patient needs.
The Tuesday evening clinic that was held every week is now being offered only twice a month.
“We were having a hard time staffing the clinic so we had to cut back,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the clinic needs volunteer physicians, pharmacists, nurses and dentists. But a medical background isn’t required to help. Volunteers are also needed to lend a hand with clerical tasks such as filing, checking in patients and answering the phone.
“We have a good core of volunteers, but we need more,” Thompson said.
The holiday season is a good time to consider giving back by contributing to local nonprofits like the Community Care Clinic.
The Salisbury Post runs a list each year called “Sharing the Season.” Found on pages 10-11A, the list includes many of the area’s nonprofits and their wish lists or needs.
The Adolescent & Family Enrichment Council is asking for educational toys and disposable diapers. Rowan Helping Ministries is in need of food to stock its pantry and winter clothing to keep the needy warm. And the Nazareth Children’s Home is hoping to receive giftcards for stores like Food Lion and Old Navy.
And those who don’t have extra money to spare can donate their time. Almost every agency is asking for volunteers.
Communities in Schools is looking for mentors and tutors and the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks is searching for a piano player for its dementia group.
And volunteers don’t have to commit hours of their time. In many cases they can simply show up for 30 minutes a week.
Thompson said the volunteers at the clinic always leave with a smile on their face.
“If you’re having a bad day it just makes you feel better to come in and help because the people are so appreciative,” she said.
The third Tuesday of every month, Mike Fuller leaves his job as a pharmacist at Innes Street Drug in downtown Salisbury to travel a few streets over to the Community Care Clinic.
It’s been a tradition since the clinic opened in 1996.
“I never want to come, I’m always tired from working all day, yet I always leave with the best feeling in the world because I’ve done something to help mankind,” he said. “The people here are genuinely appreciative of what we do.”
Fuller started volunteering after the clinic made an appeal to the community for volunteer physicians and pharmacists.
“I thought ‘What good am I if I can’t give away some of my time?’ ” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Fuller said he’d like to see more people in the community step up to lend a hand.
“There is just a tremendous amount of need and whether all those needs are met by volunteers or paid staff they need to be met one way or another,” he said. “It would be fantastic if we could get enough volunteers to hold the clinic two nights a week because we would definitely have enough people to be seen.”
Fuller said although he has a solid education and a good job, he knows the tables could easily turn and leave him in a similar position as the patients at the clinic.
“These people aren’t lazy, they are working individuals who don’t have insurance or people who are trying to find employment,” he said.
Patients who receive care at the clinic cannot have health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, veterans benefits, disability or workers compensation. They must also live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is less than $44,000 a year for a family of four, and reside in Rowan County.
A way to stay busy
Madge Fulton has also been volunteering at the clinic since it opened 15 years ago.
“At the time, my kids were grown and out of school so it was just my husband and I,” she said. “I had some time, so I just started volunteering.”
Fulton typically works the front desk at the clinic, greeting patients with a wide smile and a warm hello.
“You get to know the patients, they become your friends,” she said. “For me, it’s been a joyful experience, a meaningful experience.”
Fulton volunteers during every Tuesday evening clinic. And on off weeks she comes in to help the staff get caught up on filing and paperwork.
“If you have the free time it’s good to make yourself useful,” she said. “It’s my way of doing my part to help the community.”
A passion to serve
Senter said he’s spending more time at the clinic now that he’s retired from his own practice.
He volunteers in Salisbury about once a month and heads to Mocksville every two weeks.
“I enjoy meeting the people,” he said. “Most of them are very, very nice and they become good friends.”
Senter said he’d like to see more doctors with specialties lend their time to the clinic.
“There is a need for people with specific skills,” he said. “Some of these people have very complicated problems and it would be nice to refer them to someone here at the clinic.”
Senter said volunteering is good way to combine his passion for medicine and love of people.
“The personal satisfaction of doing something for somebody because you love doing it and you’re helping somebody is worth a lot,” he said.
To volunteer at the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, call 704-636-4523.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
By Sarah Campbell