In the past 10 years, the Jackson EMC Foundation has helped fund a myriad of programs and projects at Mercy Health Center in Athens, enabling the faith-based free clinic to increase public access to health care, according to Executive Director Tracy Thompson.
“By investing in Mercy Health Center, the Jackson EMC Foundation is investing in their community,” says Thompson. “We are eternally grateful for all the Foundation does for us.”
Mercy Health Center received its first Foundation grant in January 2006 with funds targeting the center’s dental clinic. Since then, Foundation grants have funded everything from facility renovations to a dental hygiene program. In 2013, a Foundation grant helped the Center equip and furnish its new facility at 700 Oglethorpe Avenue in Athens.
The contributions have gone a long way in helping Mercy Health Center serve its 2,200 low income patients, according to Thompson, who says the Center handles about 11,000 patient visits annually.
“At Mercy, no matter how you got here—car, bus, on foot—and no matter what you wore, we think everybody deserves the same respectful care,” says Thompson. “God’s mercy was shown to us, so we treat our clients with that same mercy.”
Patients are provided with quality care and quick service, thanks to what Thompson terms an “army of volunteers” at Mercy Health Center. Of the 800 volunteers, about 150 are clinical professionals—doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists, nurses, physician assistants, dental hygienists and the like—who volunteer one day or night each week. A part-time physician, fulltime registered nurse and fulltime nurse practitioner are on staff.
Along with primary health care, services in 15 different specialties are available along with a pharmacy and pharmacy counseling, health education, nutrition and exercise services, spiritual care, behavioral health and social services.
“What sets us apart is that most free clinics don’t offer anything but basic primary care,” says Thompson. “At Mercy, we provide what we call whole person care.” Their services bridge the gap between children who receive PeachCare and senior citizens who get Medicare, according to Thompson, who says the three health problems treated most frequently at the Center are diabetes, hypertension and COPD. Most patients could be classified as “the working poor,” she adds.
Along with providing much-needed medical attention, Mercy Health Center has become a training ground for University of Georgia pharmacy and nutrition students who shadow doctors as they volunteer at the clinic. “Mercy was started to help patients, but it’s also about students, staff and volunteers all working together in a learning environment,” says Thompson. “Students here learn how to treat the poor with respect and dignity.”
For Thompson, good news is when she hears success stories like the one of a recent patient who suffered from alcoholism and lost his job, home and family. In large part thanks to Mercy Health Center, he’s living a healthy lifestyle now and recently started a new job.
Bad news for the director is when potential new clients must remain on a waiting list. “There’s always someone waiting,” she says. Thanks to funding from the Jackson EMC Foundation and similar partners, that list is not as long as it would be.
“Representatives of the Foundation come to see us and tour the clinic,” says Thompson. “They care about where their money’s going. They have been a terrific partner, a stalwart of ours, and we are grateful.”