ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - During the past nine years, the Bethesda Free Clinic has offered care to more than 17,000 patients. These are people who might not receive the care they need if not for Bethesda.
At Bethesda Free Clinic, there’s a lot of love being spread around these days, as well as medical care. There is no means test and everyone is welcome, according to clinic director Mary Buffington.
“We see people from Hancock County to east Jackson County, whomever needs the help. " said Buffington. "Just being able to see that in our patients a reward every day.”
Bethesda is needed now more than ever.
“Mississippi has a tremendous amount of working people that cannot afford medical care," explained Michelle Harris, a nurse practitioner at the clinic. "They can’t get into the system. They have no insurance. They have to pay cash for their visits, they have to pay for their medicines.”
Eva Biggs has suffered with a toothache for two days. She’s come here for one reason. “It’s because I don’t have insurance, I don’t have anywhere else to go. So I’m really grateful that this place is here to help someone like me out that doesn’t have insurance and doesn’t make enough money to be able to make payments." she said.
Bethesda is a rarity in the free clinic world, even offering dental care. If they have toothaches or tooth pain, they have an option that they can turn to.
“If they’re not eligible for Medicaid or they don’t have traditional indemnity benefits or they don’t have the money to have emergency care, we provide that,” said the clinic’s dentist Dr. Kiono Barnes.
Dr. Francis Selman has been here for years. And he keeps coming back. “I love it. I feel there’s a tremendous need involved here, and that’s the magnetism that draws me back here each of the days that I come here.”
Patients that come here also feel that magnetism.
“The beauty in what we do is they are just so thankful," said Dr. Barnes. "They are just happy to be able to receive care where there is no care. And we’re happy to give it to them. It makes our heart warm.”
While there are a few paid employees at Bethesda Free Clinic, most of the people working there are volunteers. For them, this is a mission unlike any other.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people," said Harris. "I’ve always tried to help people have a better life. And I think health is part of having a better productive life and I think it’s our responsibility, if you have skills, to help your community.”
It’s not just care that patients are given. For those volunteering at the clinic, it’s a ministry.
“You minister to them in a way that they really need," said Dr. Selman. " That’s what refreshes me each day that I come here. And knowing that I can play a minor role in doing that.”
If it weren’t for Bethesda, the sick would be forced to make a difficult choice.
“Most of them would end up in the emergency room, unable to pay," said Buffington. "Some of them, a good percentage, I’d say about 25 to 30 percent wouldn’t do anything. They would just stay home and suffer.”
Relieving that suffering is what this clinic, and its volunteers are all about.
The clinic has an annual operating budget of about $150,000. It receives no government funding and relies strictly on donations, grants, and fundraisers.
One of the upcoming fundraisers the clinic is holding is a Redneck Wedding Dinner Theater at Crooked Letter Brewery in downtown Ocean Springs. That’s happening on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Tickets are $75 per person, which includes a three course meal and wine/beer. For more information, including how to buy tickets, click HERE.
The Bethesda Free Clinic is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It’s located at 6912 North Washington Ave.
For more information about the Bethesda Free Clinic, including how to make a donation or volunteer, visit their website by clicking HERE.