ZEBULON — Four years ago, Leona Doner wasn’t sure how her sprouting Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic would fare in eastern Wake County.
The founder and executive director of that region’s only free medical clinic, which serves the uninsured, had said it seemed as though the community doubted its ability to succeed. Despite considerable success at the clinic in recent years, Doner has returned to that point of uncertainty.
The clinic has thrived on grant funding since it opened in 2010 – expanding its services several times – but grants don’t last forever. She’s looking for donations from people and institutions in Eastern Wake.
“The dream is there, the money is not there,” said Doner, a licensed practical nurse whose efforts with the clinic led to her selection as Zebulon’s 2013 Citizen of the Year. “Unfortunately, the community doesn’t really support us. Maybe they’re supporting us by saying, ‘Yay, you got this, keep going,’ but they’re not supporting us from a financial standpoint.”
Possibly complicating matters further for Shepherd’s Care is the future of Medicaid, which is facing proposed cuts as state lawmakers work to nail down a budget for the upcoming year.
“The more they drop the return on Medicaid, the more they’re going to assign less providers who are going to take Medicaid, and if they don’t have the providers, then where are (patients) going to go?” Doner said. “They’re going to go to the emergency room where they have to be seen, can’t be turned down, or they’re going to go to a free clinic, if they can find a free clinic.”
Shepherd’s Care is currently fueled by a $150,000 annual grant from the N.C. Office of Rural Health, awarded in 2012 and slated to expire in June of 2015.
The clinic was open only on Tuesday nights, had one doctor manning that shift and served about six people per week when it first opened in the summer of 2010.
The grant enabled the clinic to add services and see patients Monday through Thursday. Today, there are about 14 volunteers – administrators, doctors, other providers and receptionists – that help Shepherd’s Care see closer to 50 patients per week.
Four-fifths of the grant goes toward payroll for part-time positions for Doner (who actually works more than full time), a bilingual receptionist, a physician assistant and a certified medical assistant. The rest covers clinic, lab and office supplies, rent and utilities.
Without the revenue source, Doner said, the clinic could continue to act as host to some free services that are currently rendered by other nonprofit groups or individuals. She would still have two physician assistants, two nurse practitioners and two medical doctors on the volunteer roster.
“But if I’m lucky, I would have (the clinic open) about four to five hours on Tuesday days and three hours on Tuesday night,” she said. “If I can’t keep the doors open, it ain’t going to make a difference.”
That would mean less time for clinic patrons like Karen Coffee, who referred to Shepherd’s Care as “a lifeline.”
Lifelong Zebulon resident Gail Turnage Davis was one of the clinic’s first patients. She now volunteers at Shepherd’s Care as a way to show her gratitude for the care she continues to receive.
“I’ve been a diabetic 42 years and lost my job due to the economic downturn,” Davis said. “If it hadn’t been for this place, I’d be dead, seriously.
“This place treats everyone who is having a difficult time financially, who don’t have insurance or can’t afford insurance. It’s the poor and the unhealthy, and if you fit within the parameters, (Shepherd’s Care) doesn’t turn you down.”
The clinic is in the position of having every resource needed to expand again, except for the finances to do so. There is extra space available in the rest of the 304 Pony Road building, but occupying it would cause the facility’s rent to double.
About $60,000 worth of dental equipment, three orthodontic chairs and panoramic X-ray equipment was recently donated to the clinic.
“We also have an ophthalmologist who said he wanted to partner with us to do eye exams a couple times a month here once we can provide space for him,” Doner said. “We’re also working to provide a substance abuse and mental health group therapy.
“We’re going to keep going forward and continue to trust God for everything, just like we have from the beginning. But the people in eastern Wake county, where we serve, need to realize we’re here. If we end up having to close our doors, it’s going to be a lot harder to re-open.”
It is also a dream of Doner’s for Shepherd’s Care to one day offer orthopedic care and the services of a social worker.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews