GAUTIER, MS (WLOX)- The faltering economy and lost jobs mean the number of uninsured South Mississippians is steadily climbing. In Jackson County, more than 16,000 people lack healthcare. But one small Gautier church is on a big mission to provide free health services to the needy.
"We're finding that people are making choices between keeping their healthcare or keeping their homes," Pastor Shelia Jenkins said.
Jenkins leads the Abundant Life Christian Center in Gautier. She says she's saddened to know that thousands of people in Jackson County need health coverage, but can't afford it.
"About 20 percent of the population in Jackson County are uninsured. We found that Mississippi is ranked number one in obesity, Mississippi is ranked number one in hypertension, and Mississippi is number two in diabetes," Pastor Jenkins said.
Those staggering statistics and the fractured economy pushed Jenkins and her best friend to start a charity care clinic at the church. It's set to open in March.
"We will not be able to take anyone who has Medicaid, Medicare, or any type of insurance. It will be just like going to any other medical clinic. Whatever the person comes in with, we will be able to assist them. There will be preventative medicine, talking to people about their high blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and those type of things."
To make the program a success, the pastor says she needs medical professionals to work in the clinic and financial donations to keep it running.
One volunteer already in place is church member Ruth Murray. She believes the outpatient clinic will encourage more ill people who lack coverage to get treatment.
"It is something that is necessary and needed," Murray said. "It is a free place to come when they are sick, and they don't have to wait until the very last minute."