It was my honor to award the 14th Family Medicine Cares USA Grant to the Free Clinic of Meridian, located in Meridian, MS. The Free Clinic of Meridian opened in November 2014, and is an example of a community engagement overcoming multiple obstacles. It was a great experience getting to drive over and spend a few hours meeting some wonderful people and formally awarding them a much-deserved grant.
We had a quick tour of the facility prior to the presentation. You enter into the clinic into a fairly spacious waiting room. They have four exam rooms, a conference room where patient education classes (e.g. diabetes, nutrition/diet and smoking cessation) and/or consultation takes place; in-take/out-take areas, and a nursing station.
Lee Valentine, MD is the AAFP member who served as the applicant for the grant and is a board member and provider for the clinic. Dr. Valentine is a family physician with over three decades of experience practicing in rural Mississippi, who just recently helped found a DO residency in Meridian (only the 4th Family Medicine residency in the state, and the 3rd rural program.) Interestingly, Dr. Valentine worked with two competing local hospitals to develop backing for the residency program, and that cooperation extends to the free clinic, which has financial backing and support from both the Rush Foundation Hospital and the Anderson Regional Medical Center. In fact, the Free Clinic of Meridian is located in a building that is leased from one of the hospitals for $1 a year, and that hospital continues to pay the utilities. Further, both hospitals have donated equipment and ancillary services to support the clinic.
At the award ceremony, we also enjoyed meeting several board members, two of which deserve special recognition. The Board President Brenda Hiatt and Vice-President Cathy Williamson are community members who have been instrumental in rallying the community behind the clinic. The staff and providers for the clinic are all volunteers. Residents of the Meridian program area are already serving in the clinic, and medical students and nurse practitioner students are beginning to spend time there while rotating at the local hospitals. The clinic provides primary care services, mental health counseling and assistance with engaging community social services.
The grant is in the amount of $17,805 and is being used for much needed upgrades to donated equipment such as some very outdated exam tables. It will also purchase a phlebotomy chair, which was described as “one of those things we never knew we would need until we got started.” The clinic already has a waiting list of 3-4 months for new patients as a result of the high demand in the area. Currently 300 patients are registered. They are working to add new providers and volunteers to increase their hours of operation, which are currently 16-20 hours a week.