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Beyond medical care, patients feel dignity

DARDANELLE, Ark. (BP)–Volunteers at the River Valley Christian Clinic often hear Dr. James Carter cite the story of the Good Samaritan to keep them mindful to treat each patient who comes through the clinic with dignity and respect.

A semi-retired family practice physician, Carter is the head of the free clinic’s board of directors, whose vision, and whose passion for people and for Christ, has helped to ignite an army of about 650 volunteers with the same vision and passion.

Carter’s heart for people and missions has been demonstrated at First Baptist Church in Russellville since 1987, including numerous short-term mission trips to Brazil. Health concerns limited his ability to travel, but he said the River Valley Christian Clinic in Dardanelle, Ark., has brought him an opportunity to give back, as it has for many others.

Optometrist Jim Lieblong became involved because of Carter’s passion. “He was our family physician — he was our pediatrician who took care of our son when he was born. He asked me to become involved.”

Lieblong and his wife Chloe both volunteer at the clinic, which is open two evenings a month. Jim gathered resources to set up the eye exam room and he organizes the doctors who do the exams as well as glaucoma and diabetes screening. Chloe organizes the volunteers on the optical side to fit patients with their prescription eyeglasses.

“So many people don’t have insurance to be able to get this care,” Jim said. “This is the working poor — kids can get coverage through Medicare, but people ages 30-60 can’t get it. And we have the ability to help them with that, and provide for their spiritual needs as well. Everybody working at the clinic is working there for those reasons.”

The clinic has become the main ministry of pharmacist Chuck Wilson. “I do a lot of work between clinics — filling prescriptions, ordering, staffing volunteers and stocking. It’s nice just to be able to fill these prescriptions for these people and not have to worry about a money exchange,” Wilson said. “It’s nice just to say to the patients, ‘Here it is.'”

Clinic administrator Marcia Chronister, from Fellowship of Christians Church in Russellville, refers to the clinic’s patients as “the invisible people,” and added, “They just want to be where they aren’t in the way or being a bother to anybody.”

Chronister said before she worked at the clinic she basically lived in a bubble, unaware of their existence so nearby. “You don’t see them when you’re out. They stay inside a lot and they’re very family oriented — they have to depend on each other. Most of them are just people who have been trapped in the whirlpool of their circumstances and they just don’t know what to do. We have a third-world country right here in our own community.”

As the administrator, part of Chronister’s job is to qualify people to become regular patients at the clinic. In her interviews with patients, Chronister becomes aware of more than just their health issues. “We have to ask lots of personal questions when they come in,” she said. “It can be very hard on them to have to share so much personal information.”

She recounted the story of one man who became particularly special to her. With a number of issues hitting him at once, she said, “He broke down into tears several times as he answered some of the questions.”

The man had about a four-day growth of facial hair, and when she had to copy his photo ID, she noticed what a nice-looking man he was when clean-shaven, and she told him so. “Before he left, we were laughing and he was feeling better.”

The next time she saw him, he told her, “I started back to church after I came here.”

Chronister had a number of occasions to serve that same man and pray with and for him. He ultimately was diagnosed with cancer and had to work through the clinic to obtain radiation treatments. One day he came in the clinic all dressed up and bathed, and told Chronister, “I went to church, and I got saved!” He also told her how much she had become like a family member to him, and she assured him that she felt the same way.

“It is important to them that they can come here and be treated with dignity,” Chronister stated. “Many of them just don’t know how to go about getting the help they need — there’s lots of just helping them know how and where to get help.” The clinic receives lots of thank you notes, but she remembered one that said, “Thank you for not making us feel like the dregs of society.”

It is that kind of compassion that permeates the atmosphere on clinic nights. Stephen Davis, pastor of First Baptist in Russellville, was part of a trio of men who began to investigate opening a free clinic in Pope County.

Davis commended all of the volunteers for the deep level of compassion demonstrated through their ministry at the clinic, noting, “The clinic has really opened the doors for so many people to love on people who don’t have anything.”

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  • Kay Adkins