2017 Health Care Heroes | Western Tidewater Free Clinic, community service

“Many hands make light work.” Nowhere is that more applicable than at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, where a team of medical professionals provides nonemergency medical care for those who need it most.

The clinic at 2019 Meade Pkwy. in Suffolk has served nearly 5,000 residents of Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton Counties who cannot otherwise afford health care. More than 100,000 medical service visits have included dental, vision, women’s and mental health, pharmacy, education, specialty care and referral services. Last year saw record numbers: more than 18,000 visits in all.

Clinical work is performed by 175 dedicated volunteer physicians, nurses and medical professionals.

“We’re free but we aren’t cheap. Our wonderful volunteers keep our doors open. We couldn’t operate without this core help,” said Alexandra Hodges, the clinic’s volunteer coordinator.

The clinic’s executive director, Chet Hart, has witnessed the value of this work from several vantage points as he is a former Sentara Obici administrator and WTFC board member.

“I could not be more proud of our incredible team of staff and volunteers that dedicate themselves to strengthening our community by healing broken lives, one patient at a time,” he said.

There have been challenges. Getting to the clinic is an issue for some patients as its service area has limited public transportation options. A partnership with Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia’s I-Ride program and patient gas cards provided by grant funding helps.

The clinic receives no federal funding and relies on private donations of time, money and in-kind gifts. It is a grassroots effort, founded when community stakeholders identified a need for reliable, high-quality, comprehensive and compassionate health care in a medically underserved region.

“The story echoed most often by our patients is that they became too sick to work due to untreated multiple chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, lost their job and ultimately their health insurance, turned to hospital emergency departments to try and manage their health, but ultimately continued to become more critically ill due to lack of access to regular medical care,” Hart said, adding there are more who need service but don’t yet have access.

Still, the group is grateful for the public and private support that makes its work possible.

“We are proud that 2017 marks our 10th anniversary. Community education on what free clinics offer, who we serve, how we serve them and what resources are needed to continue to make our community healthier is critical to meeting the need for the next 10 years and beyond,” Hart said.

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