PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The first free medical clinic in Jackson County opened its doors Friday. Volunteers in Medicine Gautier was started by the Abundant Life Christian Center to provide primary healthcare services to thousands of uninsured South Mississippians.
Vincent Piefer was the first patient at the Gautier clinic. The young man said he needs free medical help because he's out of work and out of money to pay high insurance costs.
"I used to have insurance when I worked at the casino. I lost that when I stopped working there," Vincent explained. "I am probably up to $20,000 to $30,000 in debt from the hospital."
Piefer's story is familiar to so many struggling South Mississippians lacking adequate healthcare coverage. Nurse Practitioner Cindy Jensen believes the sharp decline in the economy is causing the number to skyrocket.
"There about 26,000 that are uninsured in Jackson County, and that was last year," Jensen said. "Mississippi, specifically Jackson County, is number one in the country for heart disease, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. What we are hoping to do is change that number one patient and a time."
The new clinic is fully equipped to do the job. It has five exam rooms, the latest medical equipment, and a staff of 30 volunteers.
"This is the real deal, and we are going to run it like a real professional medical clinic. We have a nice facility, and when you walk in you're like, 'Wow, this is a free clinic?'" Pastor Shelia Jenkins said.
Jenkins is the clinic's organizer. She said the only way the health facility can remain open is with support and teamwork.
"We are looking for more volunteers, and we are definitely looking for people to partner with the clinic financially. We need a grant writer to tap into some money available to a clinic," the pastor said. "It is a community problem, and we can meet that need. And it feels good to able to meet that need."
The clinic is open every Friday from noon to 6pm. Volunteers say they will change the time once more donations roll in and people sign up to help. For more information about the clinic call (228) 497-9713.