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Free clinic that opened after Katrina needs volunteers to stay open

Judy Jones has called. She’s interviewed people. She’s given tours. And still, the Bethel Free Health Clinic is closed.

The executive director of the free clinic had to close the doors Aug. 2, because there were no doctors or nurse practitioners available.

She holds out hope that volunteers will come forward so the doors can open again and people in Biloxi who need access to free health care will once again have a place to go.

“It’s really a scary story,” Jones said. “We had five providers the first of the year, but they kind of dropped off. One got ill, one had three surgeries. One had cancer. One, he and his wife are hiking the Continental Divide.”

All of them were volunteers, Jones said.

“We need doctors,” Jones said. “And we’re looking for a nurse practitioner who can be here three days a week for a heart healthy program.”

Jones said medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic medicine, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are all welcome to come help.

Bethel Free Health Clinic has been in existence since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The clinic began out of Bethel Lutheran Church on Pass Road, Jones said.

“The director for the ministry was a friend of mine. She worked at the VA. She had doctors and medicines and all from up north and they were looking for a clinic.”

The friend suggested they call Jones and “get her out of retirement” to run the clinic. That’s where it began, Jones said. She’s been at Bethel Free Clinic since. She worked 30 years for Veterans Affairs as a nurse.

The clinic moved out of the church after 2 1/2 years and moved to its present location in 2008.

Grants were used to convert a building that is leased for $1 a year into a clinic. Several churches provide annual support, but the key has been volunteer medical staff. And that has been in short supply since early August.

“After the storm, we were treating anyone who walked in,” Jones said. “There was so much need. People didn’t know where their doctors were. We lost 25 percent of our doctors (on the Coast) after Katrina.”

Jones said after the clinic moved out of the church, many of the people who came to the clinic were those with no insurance and some with no place to live.

“It was just a bad situation,” she said. “So we converted to people had no insurance and couldn’t access health care, period.

“Slowly, people started coming. The need was tremendous, but it was people who didn’t access health care any other way.”

And that’s what Jones is still trying to provide — once volunteer medical staff can be secured.

“Our patients, some of them probably, are panicking,” Jones said. “One man didn’t know what he was going to do for care because he’s not working and doesn’t have money.”

The clinic has a paid office manager, but Jones is a volunteer, as are the medical staff. If a nurse practitioner can commit to three days a week for the heart healthy program, that person also would be paid.

Want to help?

You can contact the Bethel Free Health Clinic at bethelkatclinic@gmail.com.

Address: 1650 Carrol Drive, Biloxi

Twitter: @BethelFreeClinic

Phone: 228-594-3640

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